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The case of reading and preserving Indonesian literature

By Theo Kalangi

In March 2016, a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University (CCTU) entitled “Most Literate Nation of the World” placed Indonesia as the 60th most literate nation out of 61 nations on the list, above only Botswana, and below fellow ASEAN member Thailand. A survey by UNESCO in 2012 records that only one out of 1000 people in Indonesia have an interest in reading. It might sound meagre enough, but what if we ask this next question: how many of the 0.1 percent read books that were written by an Indonesian author?

In most developed countries, especially English-speaking countries, high school students are taught to read books, being exposed to the work of English literature greats like Mark Twain and Shakespeare and encouraged to enjoy and find fun in reading literature. However, in Indonesia, this practice is rare or not practiced at all. Yes, we are taught about the history of Indonesian literature and the periods that divide the styles of literature in Indonesia, but we are not given time to read in class nor are we properly taught to read and appreciate the works of our own people. Read more

Source: The Jakarta Post

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Jakarta: Young Lombok Women Fight for Equality Through Literature

Recent tensions surrounding religious and ethnic intolerance in Indonesia can place individuals with alternative or liberal views on the sidelines, sometimes suppressing those views altogether.

Such is the reality for several young women on the island of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, when it comes to voicing unconventional perspectives on identity, sexuality and self-expression through writing.

Female writers of short stories and poetry in the provincial capital of Mataram are often prevented from expressing opinions that contradict or offer an alternative to social norms, in fear of retribution from the social milieu.

Other writers might commonly craft tales about a conventional romance between man and woman, for instance, that reinforces values of a moderate, religiously devout and patriarchal social system.

Amid the island’s relatively conservative attitudes on topics such as marriage, gender roles and sexuality, those who transgress are a limited few. Read more

Source: Jakarta 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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Book Review: Troubled transit:Asylum Seekers Stuck in Indonesia


In August 2016, six members of Danish parliament from across the political spectrum cancelled their fact-finding trip to Australia’s offshore detention centre after three of them had their visas denied by the Republic of Nauru. Two of these parliamentarians had previously been critical of Australia’s border policy, whilst another conservative politician was rejected for no apparent reason, but that he was born in Syria. MP Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen asserted that ‘the world can see that in a country where critical eyes and ears are not allowed, it’s obvious that something is being hidden’.

Working against the odds – including an Australian government insistent on denying the public information – journalists, researchers and current and former employees of offshore detention contractors have managed to expose abuses within the punitive system that polices Australia’s borders. The strict suppression of information imposed under the 2015 Border Force Act is increasingly eroding.  Read more


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Language endangerment in multilingual Indonesia

Language cannot merely be defined as a tool to convey meaning as part of human communication. Its significance as transferor of general knowledge is proof of its basic role in shaping our minds with regard to how we perceive the world.

It is also no surprise that in this 7-billion populated planet, hundreds of millions of people have confidently identified themselves as bilinguals as a result of globalized language learning. This phenomenon, as we all know, leaves some marks in which certain languages are ranked according to their use by the society in particular settings, for instance, in education, bureaucracy and professional work. Consequently, tendencies to learn only one or two languages that young people believe can give social and economic mobility for their future are increasing, leaving other languages, local languages in particular, marginalized and decayed. 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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RI steps into world literature arena at Frankfurt Book Fair

With the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair approaching, Indonesia is stepping up its preparation to exhibit its literature to the world.

The country was chosen to be the guest of honour at the event in Frankfurt, Germany, which will take place between Oct. 14 and 18 this year. It is the largest book fair in the world and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
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Indonesian literature ‘needs exposure to be noticed internationally’

Feby Indirani was an accomplished TV journalist when she decided to become a full-time author. In DW interview, she talks about the potential of Indonesian literature and her own journey as a writer: DW

Feby Indirani

DW: In 2013, you decided to leave your job as a successful journalist for a life of uncertainty as a full-time writer. Were your family and friends happy with your decision?

Feby Indirani: Some of my friends were skeptical about my decision and called me crazy. They knew I had published some books, but quitting a stable job was quite shocking for many. When you are a TV producer and you host your own show, you are not expected to give it up for something as unconventional as writing. They asked me whether I was sure about my decision and wouldn’t be missing the TV glamour. Even after two years some people still ask those questions. Continue reading

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Indonesia: Pallavi Aiyer speaks at Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF)

pallaviThe MIWF—held at Fort Rotterdam, a well-preserved collection of 16th-century harbour-front buildings—is the brainchild of local writer-feminist Lily Yulianty Farid. She founded the festival five years ago with nothing more than a prayer and a handful of sponsors. It is now the highlight of the city’s cultural calendar. Throngs of Makassarese, most of whom rarely read or buy books, gather at Fort Rotterdam to listen to authors from diverse countries—the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and India. Most writers, however, are from Indonesia, many from the periphery of the archipelago, places like Papua. They rarely get a platform to talk about their work.

In vibe and setting, the MIWF is as imaginably opposite as can be to Indonesia’s other big litfest, organised in Udub, Bali, by a fashionable Australian restaurateur. The Udub festival lures big-ticket authors with sumptuous meals and stays at luxury resorts. Tickets sell for hundreds of dollars; there are pricey special events promising a chance to canoodle with favourite writers over aperitifs and canapes. The audience is largely of expats. Continue reading

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Publishing in Indonesia: A report


Laksmi Pamuntjak

Like the country itself with its 17,000 islands, the great diversity of peoples, languages and religions in the Indonesian archipelago has also left its mark on Indonesia’s literature. This means there is not just a single literature, but a dozen different writing traditions, including Malay (Indonesian), Balinese, Sundanese and Javanese. Poetry has always played a significant role in the cultures of Indonesia and the country is distinguished by a very long oral tradition. Poems, fairy tales and sagas have been passed down by word of mouth, since time immemorial – often accompanied by music and performed in groups.

The roots of Indonesia’s written traditions stretch back 2,000 years – further back in time than most Western literatures. Some of the earliest known examples are the stone inscriptions of Kutai, in western Kalimantan (Borneo), dating from around 400 AD, and the Talang Tuwo stone, dating from 648, which was found in Palembang (South Sumatra), the 7th century capital city of the old kingdom of Srivijaya. Already at that time, the site was an important centre for the study of Buddhism with an extensive library and more than 1,000 scholars from near and far.

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