Sunday, 18 January 2009
The Sunday Salon: Indonesian Short Stories
The latest issue of Words Without Borders (always well worth checking out) includes several short stories by Indonesian women. As I'm having a Sunday filled with marking, housework and reading the heaviest novel I can find I decided that I would dip into these in my breaks between tasks.
Maybe Not Yem by Etik Juwita
In a very plain and undersatate language this short story tells of the journey back to Indonesia by a group of migrant female workers. The narrator sits beside a woman determined to spring fear into her, filling her with tales of crimes migrant workers play onto their wealthy bosses.
The journey portrays the many ways that these women are in a constant battle, everyone is out to rip them off, so by the time they return home to their families the little money they earned working so hard has been tugged and pulled in many directions all for the benefit of others.
In complete contrast to Maybe Not Yem, is The Century Carver
by Oka Rusmini
This story is rich and full of detailed description. The Carver in the story is Kopag, blind for the whole of his life he has been taught the beauty and power of wood. Able to carve beautiful women without ever having seen one he earns his families fortune.
When one day a woman walks into the room and speaks to him, he declares her the most beautiful woman alive, comparing her to the beauty of wood:
"The beauty of this young woman was extraordinary. The indentations of her body and her face resembled those in a piece of timber. She was timber of exquisite beauty. It was odd that other people were unable to see her loveliness, to appreciate the beauty that nature had entrusted to her. Even old Gubreg made no comment when Kopag praised the prettiness of this eighteen-year-old girl. What was wrong with the criteria he had used to judge her beauty?"
His family are shocked and distraught at his choice as externally she is pitifully ugly,without sight his version of beauty is very different from the conventional concept held by the rest of society.
Road to Heaven by Abidah El Khalieqy is the story of a mother's death and life. As the mother dies her appearance cahnges to one of extreme beauty and happiness, a smile creeps over her face, eeryone comments on it, except the father:
"A telephone rang in my heart. "He's jealous, extremely jealous," a disconnected voice said. With the smile of an angel on her lips, my mother looked very young, as if she had returned in time to her age as a young woman, on the day she got married twenty years ago."
As the daughter travels with her mother's body to the final resting place we hear of the brutality her mother felt at her father's hands, brutality caused because the father was jealous of his wife's love of God.