Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel

For the few of you out there who haven't, at some point in your past, been compelled to read the Great Indonesian Novels of Abdoel Moeis, Mochtar Lubis and Pramoedya Anantar Toer, I now offer you the chance to read one single, compact Great Indonesian Novel as a series of easy to follow (or indeed easy to ignore) blog postings. This work - to be entitled "This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight" - will encapsulate the entirety of modern Indonesian literature, and add some sorely needed gags.

Chapter 1 - May 1905
Ho Li Kow lit his Dutch pipe with a Dutch match, shook the match out, and blew out a cloud of Dutch tobacco smoke. He didn't want to be here at home; he would far rather have been back at the Dutch school, learning Dutch like a modern, civilised man should.

And now his parents were compelling him to marry a native woman. The shame of it! He had always dreamed of marrying one of the Dutch women whose pictures he'd seen in his Dutch magazines. His ideal wife would be one of them, not brown-skinned with splayed feet thrust into peasant sandals, no; she would wear proper European leather boots - also fishnet stockings, latex corset, fluffy handcuffs...

His reverie was interrupted rudely as his mother stormed into the room. He pulled himself together and placed his hat before his groin to conceal his thoughts.

"She is here, Number One Son. You will do the right thing by your family and marry her!"
"But mother - she is a native."
"She is minor royalty. Her family have fallen on hard times. By marrying her we will gain the privileges of royalty."
"And what privileges do native royalty have, mother?"
"Not having their houses burnt down every time there is a riot, idiot boy. Your father may be the second-biggest rice lender in the province, but people still hate us because we are Chinese. You will marry the girl, and you will like it."

Before he could answer, the bride that had been chosen for him walked demurely into the room and knelt before him, trembling slightly. Raden Roro Royabot was but 15 years old, and beautiful as only a native woman could be in this literary genre. In contrast to the pretentious Dutch furniture and European-style clothes of her prospective husband's rich Chinese family , she wore a simple kain panjang and kebaya, her hair arranged in a plain bun and a frangipane behind her ear.

Ho Li Kow looked her up and down dispassionately for what seemed like an age.
"Why do you have a cake behind your ear?"
"I beg your pardon, Lord?"
"You have a frangipane behind your ear. Shouldn't that be a frangipani?"

She lowered her beautiful, dark eyes to the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry Lord. I did not know the difference Lord. I have only had 10 minutes education, and that mostly at the hands of dyslexic Japanese biker nuns. And in case Lord, that joke doesn't work in Javanese."

"TEN MINUTES?" Li Kow's mother's screech startled them both. "SO SHE IS AN EDUCATED WOMAN! SHE WILL BRING NOTHING BUT TROUBLE!"

Tears began to well up in Royabot's eyes. She bit her lip, determined not to cry. She remembered what her father had told her: "As number 14 daughter, your role in the plot is to be sold to an uncaring husband to pay off our debts in a crude and obvious allegory of colonial economic exploitation. And above all don't cry - if you shed a tear in the rice-lender's house we will be liable for tear-tax which we cannot pay, and we'll have to offer another of your young brothers to Mr Piedovijl in the Provincial Administration in lieu. And we need all your brothers to hold up the roof because we can't afford walls!"

Li Kow put his hands on his hips, looked off to one side and laughed harshly in a way that suggested a cameo role for a superannuated Hong Kong action star in the film adaptation.

"Very well mother - the path of duty is clear. I will marry her, but then mistreat and ignore her in an ironic parallel to the Dutch colonial government's treatment of native people."

Royabot thought longingly of the only man who had ever been kind to her - Min, the simple village goat-carrier. Her tears fell thick and fast now, unheedingly, like chocolate sprinkles onto a kue bandung; only to be smothered in the condensed milk of Chinese pretention, hidden by the chopped nuts of economic necessity and finally folded into the pancake of historical oblivion and scoffed uncaringly by an overweight British tourist on the rain-soaked, night-time streets of Kota Baru. It was all so hideously unfair, just like Dutch rule...
[to be continued]

10 comments:

No Good Boyo said...

Excellent stuff. I'm already identifying with the mother.

Follows in the footsteps of another condensed literary genre, courtesy of Welsh poet and librarian Harri Webb:

Synopsis of the great Welsh novel

Dai K lives at the end of a valley. One is not quite sure
Whether it has been drowned or not. His Mam loves him too much and his Dada drinks.

As for his girlfriend Blodwen, she's pregnant. So are all the other girls in the village - there's been a Revival.

After a performance of Elijah, the mad preacher Davies the Doom has burnt the chapel down.

One Saturday night after a dance at the Corn Club, with the Free Wales Army up to no goood in the back lanes, a stranger comes to the village; he is, of course,
God, the well known television personality.

He succeeds in confusing the issue, whatever it is, and departs
on the last train before the line is closed.

The colliery blows up, there is a financial scandal involving all the most respected citizens; the choir wins at the National.

It is all seen, naturally, through the eyes of a sensitive boy who never grows up.

The men emigrate to America, Cardiff and the moon.

The girls find rich and foolish English husbands.

Only daft Ianto is left to recite the Complete Works of Sir Lewis Morris to puzzled sheep, before throwing himself over the edge of the abandoned quarry.

One is not quite sure whether it is fiction or not.


If you want to read similar over a hundred pages, try One Moonlit Night (Un Nos Ola Leuad) by Caradog Prichard.

Gyppo Byard said...

Boyo - I trust you are already peppering your familial conversation with the phrases "Number 1 daughter" and "idiot boy".

I advise strongly against "Number 1 idiot wife" on health and safety grounds, though.

Many years ago I saw a TV adaptation of Un Nos Ola Leuad, in Welsh, in black-and-white, with endless scenes of coffins falling into quarries to reveal bleached skeletons, driving rain etc etc. At the end came up the cheery title "This Film Was Sponsored By the Welsh Tourist Board!"

I believe the author went on to a career as a rapper, under the name Cara "Doggy" Dogg Prichard.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

I think I'll wait for the shadow puppet show version.

Yin said...

What, no drought?

Anonymous said...

I laughed until I cried and then remembered the tear tax (an idea copied from the great Indonesian novel by Gordon Brown).

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gyppo, I laughed for a full 5 f**king minutes. Fluffy handcuffs... Frangipane/frangipani... potato/potato.... I gotta do me own one now as well, Great Transylvanian Novel: "But dad, it why does it matter that the man I want to marry is a Hungarian??", "I don't know why you couldn't have chosen one of those nice Nazis who were here in 1943, I could've got a Merc out of it. Have some more gulash".

Gyppo Byard said...

Dapphers - I shall be producing that at some point in the future. It will be around 18 hours long. Enjoy...

Yin - welcome. The drought will come later, along with a lot of righteous anger at Malaysia claiming various bits of Indonesian culture as their own.

Anon - I now fear that I may have planted an idea in the mind of some ghastly political thinktank or other.

Gadjo - I look forward eagerly to reading the Great Transylvanian Novel. Boyo, of course, has Anti-Danube. I think we should press him for an update...

The Jules said...

:-)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gyppo, it would be a mamouth undertaking for me and fairly depressing one too, but, one day.... Press him, Gyppo, press him.

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