Hi style is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquéz and William Faulkner, says the New York Times Book Review. “Beauty is a Wound” by Eka Kurniawan is a wild and rousing nightmare about Indonesia’s recent history.
Eka Kurniawan, born 1975 in West Java, is not only novelist, screenwriter and blogger, but also comic artist. And you also notice this in his novel about an Indonesian women’s tribe and their male satellites: extreme figures, strong visual impressions and narrative that runs from one dramatic climax to the other.
At the center is Dewi Ayu, the most popular whore of Halimunda, who gives birth to her fourth daughter without a father at the age of 52. She dies shortly thereafter and resurrects 21 years later.
Dewi Ayu is a colonial child: her parents are half-siblings, her only grandfather is a Dutch plantation owner, who has taken a beautiful young natives to the concubine under threat of violence. The young woman, Dewi’s maternal grandmother, had a lover whom she sees again after a long time; Chased by the henchmen of the jealous Dutchman, she plunges from the top of a mountain – and flies away.
A more brutal magic realism
And just as Ayu Dewi’s existence is a result of colonialism, it continues with her: under Japanese occupation during the Second World War, she is interned as a Dutchwoman and forced to prostitution. In the turmoil of the war of liberation she is brought back to her inheritance and deserves it back: in the brothel. She teams up with soldiers, guerrillas, communists and gangsters. Her daughters are children of demons, she claims. The first three are unusually beautiful and are courted by unusually important men. The eldest loves a communist and is forced to marry by a senior officer. The second loves the same man who escapes the anti-Communist massacre of the 1960s, but then goes to the camp in front of the dogs. The third married as a twelve-year-old the head of the local mafia.
Of course, this novel is not realistic. In some places it is similarly fantastic, brutal, erotic and dreamlike as the early work of García Márquez – but much more drastic. This book is a wild, intoxicating nightmare about Indonesia’s recent history, full of human monsters and evil spirits – characters you will not forget.
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, Annie Tucker (Translator) Paperback, 470 pages Published September 2015 by New Directions (first published December 12th 2002)