Indonesia: Wanted in the bookstores: Literary canon


Visit any bookstore specializing in imported books from the English-speaking world and the chances are you will find non-fiction and fiction bestsellers as well as a significant amount of classics that are the pride and joy of a country or a culture.

The giants of British literature like William Wordsworth, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen are never hard to spot, as are the titans of American literature. They stand on the shelves waiting to be purchased and read by eager minds and literary enthusiasts.

You can even decide on the edition; the cheap paperback by Penguin or the ones with more flashy and artistic covers from the same or other publishers.
Now browse through our regular local bookstores; you will find contemporary local books and translated bestsellers. However, classics are few, especially in Indonesian literature.

You might find Chairil Anwar’s anthology of poems, Aku Ini Binatang Jalang (I Am a Wild Animal), selected poems of the great Sapardi Djoko Damono and the complete poems of the working class hero Wiji Thukul.

Sadly, you won’t likely find collections from other first-rate poets like WS Rendra or Sitor Situmorang. It is not even always easy to find the poems of the much-celebrated Taufiq Ismail who has made quite a reputation fighting illiteracy.

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