Archive | February, 2009

Tanril : A Colossal Masterpiece in Bahasa Indonesia !

19 Feb

Never before had I thought that I would feature a book review in my headline section of this blog. It’s not that I think books are not important, – but I usually reserve my headline column for special issues of human interest or other things that are dear to me. One book made me change my mind.

Enter “Tanril”. In the world of Indonesian books where most are mere manifestations of the word “mediocrity”, I was trembling when I read the first 20 pages or so of this book. It’s a work of an epic scale, telling the story of a young martial-artist in a very beautiful, lyrical way. It chronicles the life of Wander, a young, frail boy who refused to buckle to any challenge coming his way; and went on to achieve his dream in becoming an accomplished fighter in every sense of the word.

What particularly impressed me is the way the author, Nafta S. Meika, prepared the setting of this book. He painstakingly crafted every detail, scenery, and geographical arrangements to support the scenes of the story. On the back of the book, there is even a small dictionary, – so to speak, where he explained the meaning of his own created language used here and there throughout the book. I cannot help but think that if he continued to work at this level, then he surely has the potential to be Indonesia’s very own Tolkien. Especially when I happen to stumble at his blog post stating that he intended to make this book as a part of an epic series consisting of more than 10 books. Now, in itself that’s a mountainous task for a writer to tackle. In fact, I can only recall that a task of this scale was only successfully tackled once in Indonesian books by none other than the senior writer Arswendo Atmowiloto with his “Senopati Pamungkas” series. But this writer, – this writer -, he has started his journey fantastically with this book.

Another big achievement of his is his smooth and unpatronizing way to weave the details of eastern philosophy throughout the story. To come up with some bullet points of wisdom to be embedded into a story is already a high achievement in itself; let alone to be able to incorporate it into the book in such a way that will left the readers buoyed, smiling or nodding their heads in agreement without feeling that they are reading a condescending work. And when you consider that the writer must still be young ( He was mentioned as a graduate of Pelita Harapan, a young university in Jakarta ), my mouth was left agape wondering how on earth could he do that at his age.

If there is anything at all that I complain about this book is its use of small font and italics. It is rather inconsistent that sometimes you wonder why were some sentences were italicized at all. That being said, I still find that it’s a small price to pay when you read a book of its worth. If I started the book trembling, I finished it finding my mouth dry with amazement and salutation. I rest my case.

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Trembling Inside : My Life Today

19 Feb

When I started this blog and chose a tagline for it, one thing that I promised myself is that I’ll be honest in my writing. I take my promise seriously to the point that if I feel I couldn’t write honestly, I won’t write anything at all. Now I’m going to make good of the oath, strip myself bare for once and let you catch a glimpse of my naked, ugly self.

As I write this, I am about to do a couple of huge things : quitting smoking and codeine ( a painkiller given to me by my physicians to manage my pain during my hospitalization time and outpatient treatment period ). For some people, it may not seem big at all. For myself, those two are like a couple of monsters looming over the horizon, ready to pounce at me at any given moment. Why ? Maybe because smoking has been something that I’ve been doing for 17 years and I don’t know how to function without it. Maybe because codeine operates in the same brain receptors that heroin did to me long ago, – that quitting it gets me into the same crazy, panicked state of mind. I just don’t know. I don’t even know if I can explore why I am scared. The feeling is just there, – getting bigger and more gut-wrenching as I am approaching my quit day.

I am scared of the state I am now. Of the way and situations of my family. I am scared if I won’t have any idea how to support them and fulfill their every needs, – the way every responsible father does. I’m afraid that my first son will not get the most appropriate treatment for autism there is, or that I won’t be able to afford it. I am afraid that I will not be a good enough worker for my employers that someday I’ll lose my job.

It doesn’t stop there. On the more personal, intimate front, I am scared that I will not be a good enough father for my kids, – with my emotional and psychological baggage and my inability to provide for them. I am frightened that I will be a bad husband for my dear wife; – which is so unfair because that Angel of mine has been a very strong and supporting wife for me. I am scared that I will not be strong enough not only to hug and hold her hand, – but even just to walk at the same pace as she does. I am afraid that I won’t be a good man I know I should strive to be, and get trapped in the same cycle of complacency and, yes, even self-pity. This ghost of fear is a very real one and continues to haunt me in my every waking hour in these last couple of days, – so persistent it even hunts me to my sleep and conjures itself in every possible nightmare. There I would be, waking with a racing heartbeat and forced to take at least half an hour to calm myself down.

Yet I know that there is no other way to proceed if I’m to grow and be more than what I am right now. I just have to embrace the fact that to be better feels bitter. I just pray that I will have you all with me as my friends as I stare my fears right on the eyes and do what I have to do. Thanks for letting me pour myself out this time.

P.S. : My quit date is on Sunday, 22 February 2009. Do you guys think I should take a couple of days off my work for that ? 🙂

Bel Canto : A Review

15 Feb

Reading a book that won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award inevitably gave me a high set of expectations. A little bit of research got me to the Wikipedia page where I was told that Ann Patchett based her book on the Lima Crisis in Peru, – where a bunch of terrorists from MRTA took hostage hundreds of high-level diplomats, government and military officials and business executives who were attending a party at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru, Morihisha Aoki, in celebration of Emperor Akihito‘s 63rd birthday. So far so good. A prize-winning book with a promise of thrill based on a true events. I really could not ask for more.

True enough. The first several pages gripped me strongly with its detailed staging in preparation of the siege scene itself. This is great because not many writers would do such thing so excellently. Patchett’s greatest asset became apparent here. She belongs to the rare breed of authors who write so beautifully in a prose which is so lyrical that it almost feels like the text was sung instead of written.

However, this is exactly the same thing that makes the book fail to fill my expectations. Note that there is no good or bad here. It’s just that I expected a thriller when I got myself a love story instead. Nothing more than that. When I got to the halfway of the book, I was beginning to be bored at some points. It’s a good work, but sometimes it gets a little bit too sweet for my liking. From this point of view, it’s kind of hard for me to believe how could someone so sober as Gen could fall in love that easily with the female terrorist, Carmen. Of course, you could put forward the idea that anything is possible in love; – but realistically, I do feel that she could have built the relationship up more patiently so that a reader would not feel as disoriented as I do.

But does that make this book a bad work ? Not in my life I would say so. It shines brightly when one approaches to read it as a set of coming-of-age stories of its characters. Everybody in this novel experiences some changes to their lives, however small. And Patchett. Patchett described those evolutions in such a natural way, blunt but emphatic, that I could not help but feel like I actually know some of the characters. It is with this kind of approach that Bel Canto should be read. Slowly and savoring every tragic beauty of the details and subtle nuances.

For a reading guide of Bel Canto from the author’s official website, go here.  Please share your opinions about this book with me on the comments.  Thanks 🙂