Late last year, I was blessed to have been inspired by the Indonesian actress Dian Sastrowardoyo, who spoke about being told by her mother to read one book per week when she was in school. It was not supposed to be any book, but most of them were Indonesian literature. After finishing them, she’d be asked about the lessons and her thoughts on the books.

So I made a new year resolution – to read four books per month (rather than one book per week, because of my other commitments like on calls, weekend rounds and studying for exams). In January I finished only one book, although I did read four books simultaneously (different books are placed in different locations). By now I have finished three and am going to complete another two soon. But I’m still rather happy with myself because on top of the books, I managed to read (and digest) at least 3-4 journal articles in January, so for the time being I think I’m fine.
Anyway, let me start with the books.

1. The Muse by Jessie Burton

This was written by the author of The Miniaturist which was released about two years ago. I did not like her previous book at all, but having read through the synopsis of this book, I decided to give it a try.

It is a period novel which sets place in two eras, the 1930s and 1960s. It is about a girl who found a new job that she has always wanted, and with that came her lady boss. The author brings you back and forth between the two eras which will make you try to figure out the relationship between the two groups of seemingly-unconnected people.

I like this much better than The Miniaturist because, as much as the book left us wondering about the characters and the possible twists, the pace is good. There is always something going on, and there are some nerve-wrecking moments in the story. The Miniaturist made us wait in awkward silence and the ending was even more let down. 

Having said that, I don’t think I will read this book again.

2. Adik Datang by A. Samad Said

First and foremost, who am I to comment on our national literary prize winner? 

I have not read a Malay novel for so long. Most Malay books these days appear to be superficial and has nothing much to talk about (judging from the titles and the synopsis, or the movie/TV drama they are made into), except for marriage and…erm…marriage. So my brother suggested for me to read this book (which I gave him for his birthday many years ago). 

The strory is set up very near the beginning of World War 2, or rather, the time when it affected Malaya. It is a story about the people of a small village on a smal island, each of the inhabitants have their own life story. The challenges they faced included the lack of job opportunities because of the ongoing world war, loss of family members, illness, domestic violence, immigration of people who actually still wanted to fight for their country, and promoting education. In the end not everything worked out well, but then that is the nature of life, isn’t it?

I had trouble making out and remembering the characters in the story, which person is related to the other, their jobs or previous jobs, and their main issues. It’s not like I have never read a book with many characters but I needed to figure them out from their dialogues; not much was explained in the narration.

The book showed the high level of knowledge and life experience the author has, as well as his wisdom; it should inspire us to read and travel more.

3. Aku by Sjuman Djaya

I picked this book off the shelves because it was featured in Ada Apa Dengan Cinta. In that movie, this book was read by Rangga and later Cinta, and became something that connected the two of them, which turned out to be a beautiful love story. 

It says here that it is based on the life and works of Indonesia’s notable poet, Chairil Anwar. However I do not know how much of it should I believe because the whole story sounds too far fetched for a person being born and raised in a majority Muslim, Asian country. But then I guess it could happen anywhere in this world.

It defines the free-spirited, passionate nature that I recognise Indonesians with. I see them as people who have strong emotions and tend to react to whatever they are, be it love, anger, passion, or sadness. They would fight all their might for their love ones, against those they are angry towards, pursue their passion until they reach it, and show their sadness in the most dramatic way. I guess that is the special thing about Indonesians, which shows in their artistic works.

What I did not expect was the hedonistic nature of Chairil Anwar’s life. Modern-day hedonists would tell me to not judge his life and his choice because he has produced hundreds if not thousands of great poems all his life. Of course, I would not deny the fact that he excelled in his chosen field, but I could not shake off that feel of gloom and darkness which I have associated with a guideless, heedless life, only aiming for pleasure. It is the same kind of feeling that I had when I read the book One Day by David Nichols.

It is written almost like a script, so it is easier to imagine watching a movie titled Aku while reading through the book. The author inserted many of Chairil’s poems in betwee the narratives, but to read whole poems we’d need to get his original works.
The story is set on the background of pre-World War 2 Indonesia, which coincides with the book Adik Datang. I just happened to read two books of the same era at the sane time! Now I’m watching the movie about Soe Hok Gie, who was a revolutionist in Indonesia at about the same period of time.
I might not read the whole story again but I would like to go through it another time to decipher the words that I did not understand.

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This is a song from an Indonesian movie, Sang Pemimpi, which could be a nice background music for the book Adik Datang:

Fatwa Pujangga – Rendy Ahmad (OST Sang Pemimpi)

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This is a short documentary about Chairil Anwar, narrated by Nicholas Saputra:

Maestro Indonesia – Chairil Anwar