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12 Indonesian books you should add to your reading list

Before Dawn: The Poetry of Sapardi Djoko Damono ( 2005 )

Author: Sapardi Djoko Damono

Translated by John H. McGlynn, this book contains poetry written by Sapardi Djoko Damono, one of Indonesia’s most renowned poets. It contains 30 more poems than Before Dawn – Suddenly the Night, which was released in 1987.

Some of the most popular poems in the 2005’s book are Rain of June and I Want, with the latter being commonly quoted by and even put to music by fans.

Man Tiger (Lelaki Harimau) ( 2004 )

Author: Eka Kurniawan

The book, which recently named a nominee for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, follows Margio, a youngster from a rural area in Indonesia, who decides to kill a man. This leaves the whole village confused as Margio doesn’t seem like a person who could actually harm anyone. The worst crime he has ever committed is stealing a chicken, which was regarded as something that “happened out of spite”.

But, Margio really did kill the man, moreover in a brutal way. When asked why he did it, he answered, “It wasn’t me. There’s a tiger in me”.

The Land of Five Towers (Negeri 5 Menara) ( 2009 )

Author: Fuadi

Alif was a country boy from Maninjau in Padang, West Sumatra. Even though he dreamed to be another BJ Habibie, the country’s former president, circumstances led him to enroll at Pondok Madani, an Islamic boarding school in East Java.

Although disappointed at first, he learns the words man jadda wa jadda during his time there, which translates into “He who works hard must be successful” in Arabic, and later finds his life changed because of it.

Winter Dreams ( 2011 )

Author: Maggie Tiojakin

Nicky F. Rompa went to Boston, Massachusetts, to have a new life. During his stay, his new family, lover and his boss—apparently everyone around him—teaches him new lessons about living in a multicultural society.

Not only does he have to learn more about himself through it, he also embarks on a journey that will last throughout his life.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Eka Kurniawan

By Aminah Sheikh


Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

First of all, it is because I love reading. When I was still a kid, we had a lack of books, so I thought about writing my own stories. More than this, we as humans tend to record everything because our memories are limited. We write our experiences, our knowledge, our ideas, our stories, etc. I am just part of it.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My latest book Beauty Is a Wound (Annie Tucker) was published last year ( and in India by Speaking Tiger). As I’ve already published four novels, I think it’s time for me to take a break for a while. I don’t want my act of writing to be kind of mechanical. I want to recreate my appetite, to be hungry again. So, nowadays I only read books, meet people, travel here and there, and maybe do something that has no relation with literature at all like gardening.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Since I love a lot of genre novels (horror, martial art, crime fiction, sci-fi), my writings usually are full of these elements. I believe that literature should open as wide as it can be to all possibilities and perspectives.

Who are your favorite authors?

Indonesian writers, I can mention Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Asmaraman S. Kho Ping Hoo and Abdullah Harahap. International writers, some of them are Knut Hamsun, Cervantes, Merman Melville, William Faulkner, Kawabata, Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass. The list will be longer than this.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

Writing a movie script. The writing itself is just a bridge between our idea (writer’s, director’s) and the movie. I provide raw material to be interpreted by the director, actors, photographers, etc. In the end, we watch the movie, not read the script.

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Excerpts: Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

beauty is a wound[ 6 ]

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.”

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Jaipur blows out candles on decade of promoting Asian writing

By Victoria Burrows

Without the storytelling traditions of his native Indonesia, writer Eka Kurniawan says he’d “just be a boring writer who literally followed what was being said by language teachers at school.” Instead, last year he became the first Indonesian writer to be nominated for a Man Booker International Prize.

Kurniawan will be on stage speaking about his work at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival (jaipurliteraturefestival.org), which runs from January 19 to 23 in Rajasthan, India, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The inaugural Jaipur Literature Festival hosted 18 writers and drew a crowd of about 100 attendees, including some who “appeared to be tourists who had simply got lost,” according to the author William Dalrymple, who is the event’s co-director. Read more

Source: Asia Times

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Lost in translation: why the world is missing out on Indonesia’s best writers

By Dene Mullen

JK Rowling, Paul Kalanithi, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Bill O’Reilly. These people have a few things in common: they are the authors of Amazon’s five best-selling books of 2016; they all made millions of dollars for their publishers; and they are all from English-speaking countries. As English becomes ever more predominant as the world’s lingua franca, works written in English increase their stranglehold on the global literary scene.

It is acutely difficult for a ‘foreign’ author to break into the English-language market, where only 3% of the published works are translations from other languages. Even the world’s fourth most populous nation is struggling to have its voices heard: despite Indonesia being Southeast Asia’s most prolific literary nation, producing tens of thousands of books per year, its most renowned authors remain relatively unknown to the wider world.

Yet before Indonesians can even contemplate access to the vast English-speaking market their books need to be translated – and that is often where the problems begin.

“I think there’s a critical mass of very good writers [in Indonesia] who deserve much greater exposure, but they are only going to get that exposure if their work is translated well,” says Gill Westaway, a freelance translator and editor who lives on Lombok island, Indonesia. Read more

Source: Southeast Asia Globe

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Book Review: Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan


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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Jaipur Literature Festival 2017: Speakers expected at JLF’s 10th anniversary

With a decade into the beautiful journey in the literary world, the Jaipur Literature Festival will be celebrating its 10th year this January. To celebrate the occasion, the festival had already announced its focus to be on ‘India at 70’.

The five-day mega gala into a world of books will be hosted in the Pink City from January 19 to 23, 2017. Ahead of their 10-year commemoration, JLF organisers have started unveiling the names of eminent authors and literary personalities attending the session, with their initiative #10speakers10weeks.

The excitement among fans has already increased as William Dalrymple, writer, historian and JLF co-director, said, “Each year at Jaipur we try to produce a programme more remarkable than the year before, but 2017’s Jaipur list is certainly the most astonishing we have ever fielded. We have gathered talent from across the globe — from Jamaica to North Korea and Tasmania to Zimbabwe — to present writers of genius as diverse as the war correspondent Dexter Filkins , the economist Ha Joon Chang and the Italian aesthete, Sanskritist and polymath Roberto Calasso.” Read more

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Indonesia’s Eka Kurniawan wins the Emerging Voices fiction award for Man Tiger


Indonesia’s Eka Kurniawan has won the Financial Times and OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices fiction award for Man Tiger, along with Brazil’s  Clarissa Campolina (who won the Emerging Voices film award for Solon) and Zimbabwe’s Gareth Nyandoro (who won the Emerging Voices art award).

The Financial Times and OppenheimerFunds presented the second annual Emerging Voices Awards to the three winners. The ceremony marked the culmination of a months-long award process which reviewed and selected from 797 submissions from 64 emerging market nations.

“It has been a fantastic process getting to know the finalists and now winners of this year’s awards through their hard work and dedication to their individual crafts,” said Michael Skapinker, associate editor of the Financial Times and chair of the judges. “I think I can speak for the entire panel of judges when I say that it is incredible to be able to share the winners’ stories and amazing talent for a second year.”

The three winners each receive a $40,000 award and the runners-up in each category receive $5,000, OppenheimerFunds said in a press statement today.



  • Tania Cattebeke LaconichOlia, Paraguay
  • Camilo RestrepoImpressions of a War, Colombia


  • Yu HuaThe Seventh Day, China
  • Yan LiankeThe Four Books, China


  • Noor Abuarafeh, Jordan/Palestine
  • Syowia Kyambi, Kenya

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Tahmima Anam, Anuradha Roy and Eka Kurniawan make it to the fiction longlist of 2016 FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards


Tahmima Anam

Tahmima Anam

OppenheimerFunds and the Financial Times announced the longlists for the 2016 FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards on Thursday.

Artists from emerging-market nations as defined by the World Bank Atlas Method are eligible for awards in three categories: Art, Fiction, and Film. The longlists of 10 artists in each category were selected from more than 797 entries from 64 emerging-market countries.

The competition was open to artists from emerging-market nations for awards in the following categories

  1. Africa and the Middle East – painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, mixed media – 393 entries received from 35 countries
  2. Asia-Pacific – works of fiction published in English – 156 entries, 14 countries;
  3. Latin America and the Caribbean – films in any language with English subtitles – 248 entries; 15 countries.

A shortlist will be announced on August 5, and winners will be announced at a gala awards ceremony in New York City on September 26, which all shortlisted artists will be invited to attend. Winners will receive a $40,000 prize, and two runners-up per category will receive $5,000.

“I am once again humbled by the quality of submissions we received from these outstanding artists around the globe,” said Justin Leverenz, Director of Emerging Market Equities at OppenheimerFunds and Founder of the Emerging Voices Awards. “I am honored to be a part of something that highlights their work and showcases this talent.”

The 2015 winners were Cristina Planas for her works Vultures, Table of Negotiations, Mass Grave, Coloured Christ (Art, Peru), Chigozie Obioma for The Fishermen (Fiction, Nigeria), and Yuhang Ho for Trespassed (Film, Malaysia).

The longlists are:

Art – Africa and the Middle East:

Noor Abuarafeh (Jordan)

Victor Ehikhamenor (Nigeria)

Aicha Filali (Tunisia)

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga (Kenya)

Ilan Godfrey (South Africa)

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga (Congo Dem. Rep.)

Syowia Kyambi (Kenya)
Emo de Medeiros (Benin)
Gareth Nyandoro (Zimbabwe)
Abel Tilahun (Ethiopia)

Fiction – Asia-Pacific:

The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam, Canongate Books (Bangladesh / UK)

Home by Leila S. Chudori, Deep Vellum Publishing (Indonesia)

The Seventh Day by Yu Hua, Pantheon Books (China)

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James, Harvill Secker (India / USA)

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan, Verso Books (Indonesia)

The Four Books by Yan Lianke, Chatto & Windus (China)

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan, Chatto & Windus (India / USA)

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy, MacLehose Press (India)

Reckless by Hasan Ali Toptas, Bloomsbury Publishing (Turkey)

Crystal Wedding by Xu Xiaobin, Balestier Press (China)

Film – Latin America and the Caribbean:

Wifi by Douglas Alonzo (Honduras)

Solon by Clarissa Campolina (Brazil)

Olia by Tania Cattebeke (Paraguay)

History of Abraim by Otavio Cury (Brazil)

When the Sun Rises by Santiago Eguia (Paraguay)

3:14 by Patricio Marin (Mexico)

The Tailor by Diego Pino (Bolivia)

Impressions of War by Camilo Restrepo (Colombia)

Dionisio by Isabel Vaca (Mexico)

Zerch by J. Xavier Velasco (Mexico)

Panels of judges are reviewing the submissions to find the artists whose work best demonstrates outstanding talent and exemplifies their art form and the voice of their region. The judges include:

Chair: Michael Skapinker, Associate Editor, Financial Times

Art Panel: Africa and the Middle East

El Anatsui, Sculptor

Iwona Blazwick, Director at Whitechapel Gallery

Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel

Jan Dalley, Arts Editor, Financial Times

Koyo Kouoh, Art Director


Fiction Panel: Asia-Pacific

 Xiaolu Guo, Novelist and Filmmaker

Sunil Khlinani, Director of the India Institute at King’s College, London

Lorien Kite, Book Editor, Financial Times

Justin Leverenz, CFA, Director of Emerging Markets Equities, OppenheimerFunds

Yiyun Li, Author

Elif Shafak, Novelist, Political Scientist and Commentator


Film Panel: Latin America and the Caribbean

Nigel Andrews, Film Critic, Financial Times

Yuhang Ho, Film Director

Claudia Llosa, Film Director

Mira Nair, Film Director

Pablo Trapero, Filmmaker


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Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan Receives Inaugural World Readers’ Award

Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan was awarded the inaugural World Readers’ Award for his critically acclaimed novel, “Cantik Itu Luka” (“Beauty Is a Wound”), which was translated into English last year.

The award was initiated by Asia Pacific Writers’ and Translators’ Association — whose members consist of writers, translators, publishers, literary scholars and creative writing teachers across the region — with a mission to expand the diversity of books normally awarded in other international book prizes.

“We organized a price which involved a much wider range of people, including book readers in general — we also had a voting section in which anyone could nominate a book,” the organizers said in a statement.

Presented on Tuesday (22/03) in Hong Kong, the award recognizes Eka’s novel as “an extraordinary work that grips you from its electrifying first line: ‘One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for 21 years.'”

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