Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Eka Kurniawan : Beauty is a Wound

This is a fantasy -- as announced at the very beginning:  a dead woman climbs out of her grave. Her clothes have rotted away, while her body is none the worse for having been buried in the tropical soil for twenty years.

We have to wait until the very end of the book to sense the logic of that strange event -  one of many revelations that make the story fun to read.

Dramatic suspense is not the point here. The question is never "what happens next" - it's always "What just happened?"  It's all about comprehending the order of this exotic world -- with one foot in 20th C. Indonesian history, and  the other foot in Asian pulp fiction fantasy.

Being unfamiliar with both - I was totally hooked -- my inner eye glued to my inner screen where the author was projecting his outrageous images of beautiful hookers and sentimental/ruthless thugs.

There's plenty of rape and bloodshed -- but it's all happening to puppets.  There is no sense that an actual human being has been harmed.

The language is ornamental -- even in translation where the sound and origin of words is lost.  It's enough just to know where the author wants to guide your attention. For example, in a crucial scene where a teenaged girl stands naked in front of her class to tell them that she has just been raped by a dog in the privy  (don't ask), the author has us attend to the blackness of her hair and some objects that have just fallen on the floor. He paints a picture -- and there is no inner life beyond the hunger or satisfaction of sex.

We're introduced to the history of the Japanese occupation, the liberation and the purge of the Communist party.  But there is no indication that the country was being transformed into a modern economy in the late 20th Century. (the story runs through 1998 - and then  gives us a "happily ever after" for the four sisters.)

Two of the three major male characters are criminals (though one has status as a military commander)  Their mates are housewives - except that one bakes and sells cookies. The third male character is a Communist organizer who survives the purge and then goes into three failing businesses:  owning a library (no income), harvesting edible birds' nests (too dangerous), and finally making swimwear for tourists (the land beneath his kiosk is seized for a new hotel) He ends up hanging himself.