Book Review: Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

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Prize-winning Indonesian novelist Eka Kurniawan isn’t for the squeamish. Freighted with semen, menstrual blood, excrement and urine, his tour-de-force, “Beauty is a Wound” (originally published as “Cinta itu Luka”) isn’t “la-di-da” chic-lit, a “adultery-in-bourgeois-Hampstead” novella or Euro-crime noir.

Instead, Kurniawan hurls his readers deep into the heart of Java, reminding us along the way that the world’s most densely-populated island (one hundred and fifty million souls on an area the size of England and still counting…) is far more rambunctious than the “sopan santun”, carefully-calibrated demeanour and unblinking passivity of its courtly elite with their slow-moving palace dances and often indecipherable double-speak.

The novel is like story-telling on acid.

Densely-plotted and overflowing with characters and incidents, “Beauty is a Wound” is also studded with pithy one-liners, witness the gangster Memen Gedeng’s frank assessment of mankind: “Every human is a mammal, just like a dog and walks on two legs like a chicken.” Read more

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