18 July 2020

Book Review: Durga/Umayi by Y. B. Mangunwijaya

Hmm, unfortunately I didn't get this.

This book was not the most accessible piece of fiction, I must say. It is a short piece, clocking in at just a little over 200 pages. The plot sounds simple, centring at a working class woman who worked for the Indonesian government apparatus. But she worked her way up and got powerful, powerful enough to have plastic surgeries back and forth so that she can change her appearance at will. Oh, there's also a microphone that makes an appearance every now and then.

I am guessing that this is magical realism. Except the text really is just not accessible for me, and I had a hard time keeping track of what exactly was happening.

I got lost in the words. I got lost in the train of thought. I got lost in the mumble jumble of sentences, which seemed to just project little vignettes here and there, giving me the impression that I knew what was happening, but if I step back, I soon realise that I just learned about a very little sliver of the entire picture, which otherwise remains blurry to me.

I wanted to pick this book up because I haven't read a book coming from an Indonesian writer before. I suppose it turns out that this isn't a good place to begin. I could imagine the translator had a difficult job with this book: on the one hand, the book has to be accessible to readers who don't always have the collective background information that Indonesian readers would have, but on the other hand, the translator also had to try as much as possible to remain faithful to the reading experience the author originally intended, and I must say, the reading experience for me at least resulted in a large amount of confusion. Perhaps that was the author's original intent.

This is a slim and short book, but definitely not an easy read. I don't recommend it to others, since it's probably one of those books which you finish reading and still don't have a clue of what actually happened. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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