Excerpts: Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

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Shodancho was meditating, buried in the hot sand with only his head poking out, when one of his men approached him. The soldier, Tino Sidiq, didn’t dare disturb him—in fact he wasn’t even sure if he could disturb him. Although Shodancho’s eyes were as wide open as those of a decapitated head, his soul was wander- ing in a realm of light, or at least that was how Shodancho often described his ecstatic experiences. “Meditation saves me from hav- ing to look at this rotten world,” he’d say and then continue, “or at least from having to look at your ugly face.”

After a while his eyes blinked and his body slowly began to move, which Tino Sidiq knew signalled the end of his meditation. Shodancho emerged from the sand in one elegant gesture, scat- tering some grains of sand before coming to sit next to the soldier like a bird alighting. His naked body was skinny due to his strict regimen of alternate-day Daud fasting, even though everyone knew he was not a religious person.

“Here are your clothes,” said Tino Sidiq, giving him his dark green uniform.

“Every outfit gives you a new clown role to play,” said Shodancho, putting on his uniform. “Now I am Shodancho, the pig hunter.”

Tino Sidiq knew that Shodancho didn’t like this role, but at the same time he had agreed to play it. A number of days before they had received a direct order from Major Sadrah, the military com- mander of the City of Halimunda, to emerge from the jungle and help the people exterminate pigs. Shodancho hated getting orders from That Idiot Sadrah, as he always called him. This message was filled with respect and praise: Sadrah said that only Shodancho knew Halimunda like the palm of his own hand, and therefore he was the only one the people trusted to help them hunt pigs.

“This is what happens when the world is without war, soldiers are reduced to hunting pigs,” Shodancho continued. “Sadrah is so stupid, he wouldn’t even recognize his own asshole.”

He was on the same jungle beach where so many years ago the Princess Rengganis had sought refuge after running away, a wide cape that was shaped like an elephant’s ear, surrounded by more shell-strewn beaches and steep ravines, with only a few sandy stretches. The area was almost completely unspoiled by humans, because ever since the colonial era it had been maintained as a for- est preserve, with leopards and ajak. This was where Shodancho had been living for more than ten years, in a small hut just like the one he’d built during his guerrilla years. He had thirty-two soldiers under his command, and civilians sometimes came to help them, and all the men took turns riding into the city on a truck    to take care of their needs, but not Shodancho. His longest jour- ney in those ten years had only been as far as the caves, where he meditated, and he only returned to the hut to go fishing and cook for his soldiers and take care of the ajak he had domesticated. This peaceful life had been disturbed by Sadrah’s message. In the jungle there were no pigs, the animals only lived in the hills to the north of Halimunda, and so he would have to go down to the city. For him, to obey that order was to betray his devotion to solitude.

“This pitiful country,” he said. “Not even its soldiers know how to hunt pigs.”

He had last visited the city almost eleven years ago. The KNIL troops were to be disbanded, and he had gone to the city to oversee their departure. “Sayonara,” he’d said with disappointment. “I’m like a fisherman who waits patiently for his catch only to have someone else hand him a basket full of fish.” And then he’d returned to the jungle, along with his thirty-two faithful soldiers, and thus they be- gan their boring duties that would continue for more than ten years. Keeping busy, they protected some smuggling trucks managed by a merchant he had met when they fought the Japanese together. Of course he himself never truly oversaw anything, because his thirty-two soldiers took care of everything. He was usually either out exploring the jungle looking for caves to meditate in, fishing for parrotfish, or practicing his combat moves. He could vanish all of a sudden, a guerrilla technique he had developed himself, and could reappear just as suddenly.

He had developed that technique back when he was still a real shodancho in the Halimunda daidan, when Japan’s Sixteenth Army still occupied the island of Java. He was twenty-years old when a brilliant idea suddenly flashed into his brain: rebellion. The first person he invited to join him was Sadrah, a shodancho in the same daidan, his friend since childhood. They’d began their military ca- reers at the same time in the Seinendan, a youth regiment estab- lished by Japan. They’d gone to Bogor together for their military training after Peta was founded, and graduated as shodancho before returning to Halimunda, each to lead their own shodan. Now he hoped to invite his friend to rebel together as well.

“You are asking for the grave,” said Sadrah.

“Yes, the Japanese came from far far away just to bury me,” he said with a chuckle. “Now that’ll be a great story for my children and grandchildren.”

He was the youngest shodancho in Halimunda, and had the puni-

est physique. But only he had obtained the nickname Shodancho, and when the plans for rebellion were finally in place, he himself led the movement.There were eight shodancho, each with their own budancho, who said they would join, and two chudancho became the guerrilla advisors.The daidancho found out about the plan, but chose to stay out of it and washed his hands of the affair.“I am not a grave-

digger,” he said,“especially not for my very own grave.”

“Oh, I’ll dig a grave for you, Daidancho,” said Shodancho, then saw him out of their secret meeting. Once he was gone, Shodancho said to the others: “He prefers to rot to death behind a desk.”


Excerpted from ‘Beauty Is a Wound’ written by Eka Kurniawan published by Speaking Tiger.


Described as ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude kicked into another gear’, Beauty Is a Wound combines history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humour and romance in a sweeping polyphony. The novel begins with the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, then a Dutch colony, during World War II. Dewi Ayu, a beautiful half-Dutch, half-Indonesian girl, is captured by Japanese soldiers along with twenty others and brutalized. After the US Army frees Indonesia—and Dewi—from the Japanese, Dewi finds her family untraceable and their mansion occupied by American soldiers. Struggling to survive, she turns to prostitution and soon becomes the most sought after prostitute in the land.
Dewi Ayu gives birth to three daughters, each as stunning as herself. Over the course of their lives, Dewi and her daughters are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. However it is Dewi’s fourth daughter—named Beauty in a cruelly inverted joke—who draws them all together and brings this epic tale to its final conclusion.

Drawing on local sources—folk tales and all-night shadow-puppet plays, with their bawdy wit and epic scope—Kurniawan’s gleefully grotesque hyperbole functions as a scathing critique of his nation’s troubled past: the rapacious offhand greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; and the mass murders of perhaps a million ‘Communists’ in 1965, followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule. Kurniawan’s distinctive voice brings something luscious yet astringent to contemporary literature.

About the Author:

Eka KurniawanEka Kurniawan was born in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia, in 1975, and graduated from Faculty of Philosophy, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. He writes novels, short stories, as well as non-fiction pieces.

Beauty Is a Wound has been highlighted among Oprah Winfrey’s Best Novels of the Fall selection, The Guardian’s The Year’s Best Literary Fiction and The New York Time’s Notable Books of 2015.