“Batavia 1936” by Widya Harun

I completed reading ‘Batavia 1936’ a few days ago. In case you haven’t read my previous post about the novel,  ‘Batavia 1936’ is the first long novel in Bahasa Indonesia that I read after like, four years. So long..

I like the book at first. Because it takes historical background in Batavia, the old name of Jakarta before Indonesia gains independence from the Japanese troops in 1945. The author takes a bold move in writing the sort of novel because not many Indonesian readers prefer reading this type of book where you have to read footnotes about old buildings, history about certain places in Batavia at that time. Your brain works twice, enjoying the story while learning about history.

While my curiosity about how major characters get involved in national movement against the Dutch troops dim as they cease doing that, I keep reading the book because I expect something romantic out of the story between Kirani and Hans van Deventer. And obviously, I still wish I can let my imagination running wild when the author describes places at that time. I love the parts when the writer depict places and people when the story takes place.

Kirani, a young, beautiful and rich girl coming from a Moslem wealthy family namely Rijkaard, falls in love with Hans, a Dutch-descent doctor. Kirani is a brave, strong-willed person while Hans is quite the opposite. He is shy, poetic, mellow partly because of his sorrow family background. His mother, his past only friend, passes away when he is still a boy. He is the son of his mother, a Javanese moslem and his father’s brother. His biological father rapes his mother out of hatred when his mother is about to be married as the fourth wife of a local badass man.

His biological father dies shortly. Then Hans becomes the son of his current father, Phillip van Deventer, who is actually in love with his mother. Hans and Phillip are under the same roof but they are emotionally apart because Hans is not his biological son. Their relationship gets so much closer when Hans tells Philip that he is really fond of one of the Rijkaard’s daughters. Hans never mentions her name unknowingly that there are two women in the family: Kirani and her older sister, Kirana.

Shortly to put, Hans propose the wrong woman. Instead of Kirani, the Rijkaard family believes he wants to marry Kirana as she is the one who tells her feeling to her mother, Hillailah.

Hans, a weak man by the heart, gets fainted on the day of the proposal. He gets sad, even emotional. Thankfully, he has Syam, the only good friend that he has who is also in love with Kirani. While Kirani slowly moves on from the fate that her sister is going to have the man she loves. Hans, on the other hand, always wishes the wedding will never happen.

His wishes come true but on ways he never expects them to be.

A thief gets into the house of the Rijkaard family , injuring Kirana and causing Hillailah gets a heart attack then dies suddenly. The thief is later known as Mastur, the man whose sick child is cured by Hans. He does that by intention because he wants to steal the ring that Hans gives to Kirana, his future wife. Mastur knows that Hans get depressed because of proposing the wrong woman. Mastur does this to pay his debt of his son. The purpose that is actually in favour of Hans yet that turns out uglier than anyone can imagine.

Kirana is in her deathbed because she falls off the stairs. Their planned wedding is canceled. Kirani and Hans get closer as days go by as they spend much time nurturing the ill woman. Syam, on the other hand, keeps supporting Hans.

Then what happens next is just too diverted.

Hans departs for Surabaya to work as a volunteering doctor who help people suffering from malaria. Deep down in his heart, Hans wants to die there. This is known by Syam. So Syam asks for the help of his friend in Surabaya. Hans is transported back to Jakarta in very critical condition. Syam’s pal says Hans gets infected by malaria and doesn’t want to be cured.

What happens by the end of the novel? For most people it’s heartbreaking but for me it’s so silly.

Hans want to marry Kirana who is still in her comma because he dissapoint her. They do get married as they are dying. Kirani, who is seen loving Syam, seems happy with the marriage. Yet Kirani and Syam don’t know their feelings each other, too.

So the novel ends.

I read an Indonesian novel again, at last!

batavia 1936

I have been reading ‘Batavia 1936’ for the past a few weeks. This is the first novel in Bahasa Indonesia, my second language (my first one is Javanese language) that I read after Ayu Utami’s Lalita back in 2012/2013, if I’m not mistaken.

As I write in this post, I have been struggling reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia because I spend much time reading books in English language. Reading books in Bahasa Indonesia feels awkward.  It really is.

I can’t remember how enjoyable reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia when I was a university student, which means some 10 years back. Pragmatically, since I want to write books in Bahasa Indonesia, I have to read novels in the language, whether or not I like the idea. Yes, I know. The motivation sounds money-oriented. Sometimes I feel guilty reading books in Bahasa Indonesia out of money. Genuine writers who happen reading this piece will hate me. I’m sorry.

Anyway, I want to regain the delight of reading local literature though, yes again, it’s more because of money. What you may think as incorrect motivation has guided me learning again how to read stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I kind of enjoying the process.

‘Batavia 1936’ is a romance story that takes social background in Menteng area, Jakarta’s elite neighborhood when Indonesia is still under the Dutch occupation. Batavia itself is the old name of Jakarta before Indonesia gains independence from the Japanese troops on August 17, 1945.

The novel, which sadly doesn’t sell well, is quite rare. The writer, Widya W. Harun, opts writing a novel that doesn’t match with Indonesia’s literary enthusiasts preference who mostly like reading books about modern love story.

I salute the author for sticking at what she believes in. I bet she does a hard job matching her idea with the historical and background at the time. I believe she works hard collecting information to support her book. This makes me liking her already.

‘Batavia 1936’, as I read so far, tells about Kirana and Kirani, two siblings who have their hearts set on one man, Hans van Deventer, a Dutch doctor whose mother is a Javanese. While the essence of the story is not something extraordinary,what makes the novel worthy of my time is because the author brings me back to what happens in Jakarta before it is freed from colonialism.

As I go through page by page, my mind attempts to visualize the houses where the major characters live. I let my imagination wanders through time and space when Jakarta, which is now so crowded, is once a peaceful city. No bus, no trains. But horses and carriages.

As I read the book I try to put myself at the era where women, although like Kirana and Kirani who come from wealthy family, are restricted. I mean the two figures aren’t described as having jobs to do.

Male figures take the helms of the families. They work to make ends meet. While women, for instance, the mother of Kirani and Kirana, is skilled at household; cooking and sewing. The life of the rich people in the book is so glamorous even when television doesn’t exist. They throw expensive parties. They are like celebrities.

So far, the novel is a pleasant one to read. Because I can wholly sense the restriction of culture in it. Though Kirani and Hans love each other they don’t touch or kiss. People at that time holds culture so much that they can respect each other before they tie the knot.

The language is so soft, much different from today’s novels. From it, I can draw the conclusion that the language itself has grown so much. Although I am still a little bit struggling putting all of my heart into the book, I’d love to know how the story unfolds. Will Hans be with Kirani or her sister, Kirana?

Guess my efforts of making a good comeback as a national literary lover has been proven fruitful so far. Yeah, I think myself so.

The picture is taken from this

Easier said than done. My struggles in writing short stories in Bahasa Indonesia

Last weekend, I wrote a short story in Bahasa Indonesia, my native language, about a man who was freed from jail after spending four years in it. When I had thought about this idea I believed the story would be cool although I knew a lot of pieces about this have been around in media.

I kept doing what I had wanted though. Fortunately, rain was pouring down heavily across Jakarta. I had to stay at home. So I thought that days were perfect time for me to learn writing short stories. Tell you what!

The process was a bit like a torment for me. I was enjoying it on first words only. The initial sentences were running smoothly, coming from my heart. But the rest was like a journey full of pebbels. The lack of research that would support all of the details was hindering from making it into a comprehensive story. I changed the plot, too. The biggest factor that made me unable to turn the idea into a good one was because I was putting too much focus making it a worthwhile story to be sent to newspaper. Yeah, money at the end of the day.

The what-would-editors-or-readers-think-when-reading-this-writing was totally into my head during the process. This made it a bad result eventually. The story did not fully come from the heart. So many unfinished scenes here and there. I didn’t describe people and places in the story as beautiful as it should be. The story was dull in execution though I think the value that I would like to convey is powerful and very real.

In it, I’d love to share how freedom isn’t only limited in physical terms. It takes years and patience for this main character to be fully accepted by society. Being imprisoned emotionally is much more painful for him.

I completed the story by the way. With a lot of emotional efforts. I wrote a few sentences then I stopped. I listened to music, did trivial things, just to pump up my spirit. I needed two days to finish it all! Now I know how hard it is to finish writing things that slightly interest you, LOL! I did it all because I had to finish doing things that I started. I was unhappy with the outcome. I realized that I can make good reviews about books by other people but I am still far away from becoming a good fiction writer.

This fact slaps my face. What good is it to be a good reviewer and critic but can’t make incredible stories on my own? I look hard on myself on the mirror about this. I am still a bad fiction author regardless the fact that my awkwardness expressing things in Bahasa Indonesia does a big factor.

I have to learn coping all of this. I have to get up and try again.

Wishing writing a book on my own as my unusual escape

I want to write a novel in Bahasa Indonesia, my mother tongue, although I haven’t felt comfortable writing pieces in the language that has been part of my identity. Despite the fact that I prefer practicing writing in English language, I wish one day I can have a book on my own. I don’t know exactly why. Sometimes, my ego comes up; it says you have friends who write books, why can’t you do that, too? You can write better books than theirs or than books you read at glance at bookstores.

That’s my selfish, competitive reason.

Another part of me says writing a book is the only entrepreneurship thing that I can do to ensure I have a career in case I get fired or find it hard to find jobs. I find myself too shy to sell goods or market some products so writing is the most convenient thing I can do to make ends meet, one day.

That’s my pragmatic objective.

I get to write a book to showcase my understanding about literature so far. I have read tons of great writings, have opened my mind to perspectives across genders and authors. I have to put what I know into good writings. To let my friends know I am a good writer, too. To make myself known that I am a good reader. It is as if I were a student who is tasked of scoring good grades at exams after studying hard for a few years.

That’s my most arrogant point.

I wish I have my own book one day to leave a legacy. Just in case, once more, just in case people recognize ny name. I’d love to voice my own in forms of writing about topics I’d be always glad to talk about.

And that’s my ambitious goal.

I don’t wanna be naive here. Those reasons have contributed to my overall goal of having a book in the future. If I say only I want to write a book because I just want to then I’d sad if none would read it. So, each of them have encourage my thought of getting my book published. Yet the most honest reason on why I want to write a book is that I’d love to embark on an adventure. I’d love to set a goal, the thing that will push me getting up in the morning on a high note because I have extraordinary thing to do each day apart from obligatory things.

I hope this goal will distract my attention whenever my other aspects of life turn sour. At least, I have this mission to accomplish whenever days get rough and people turn their blind eyes to me. I start thinking at least having this goal will lift me when things or people don’t care about me.

This goal start becoming an escape, a place where I can always run to, my new best friend. The one that never satisfies me, the one that helps me going up and up. I guess this is more than enough at the moment.

How becoming a bilingual reader makes me having two identities

This may sound strange but each time I write in English Language I feel like I were a refreshed person compared to the moments I compose stories in Bahasa Indonesia.

It’s like English Language gives me power to express something in as bold, honest way as I can be. For an introverted person like me, knowing this language has been such a gift. Back then, I was too closed. Living in a country as social as Indonesia, I have to be careful every time I open my mouth. I put others’ interests above my own.

Even after I have written a lot of stories both in English Language and Bahasa Indonesia, each time I start writing articles in Bahasa Indonesia, I constantly check sentences. I am afraid I may hurt peoples’ feelings. To sum it all up, I still can’t completely uncover my masks. It remains hard for me to go all out. I guess that’s because I am not an outspoken person.

As such, I avoid writing things about personal stories in my own native language. I find it too embarrassing. This is uncommon nowadays when youngsters in Indonesia are so open with their feelings, especially those living in the country’s capital, Jakarta. Still for me, talking about feelings in front of public or writing them down in the internet is quite taboo.

Expressing my feelings in English Language somehow proves the other way around. It liberates me to say whatever I like. I feel like a free person each time I say something in the foreign language. May be that’s because the Western culture that is attached to it. As far as I know, Western culture is more democratic. It respects every individual’s voice.

Furthermore, saying something in English Language makes me feel honest about myself. I’ve got nothing to hide. It boosts my confidence. Since I have learned about English Language I have become more expressive. I have begun speaking more in my mother tongue, too. I have been no longer a shy girl from the next door (I am not as timid as people think actually).

The challenge is I must always remind myself not to watch my words, particularly when I am with my parents or older people. They are my teachers of life, the ones I always look up to. So I have to respect them so much because they deserve that.

In working environment, I must convey my opinions in courteous manners. Apart from the money, this is important for my good reputation. Other than that, I have rooms to speak freely. Thanks so much to English Language for making me a braver speaker.



When you neglect reading novels in your native language


As a non-native English speaker, preferring reading novels in English Language is like holding a double-edged sword. People praise me for my knowledge about the foreign language. They wonder how I can speak so fluently. A lot of friends often ask for advice related to English Language. They want me to share some tips to be good at grammars. They wish they were able to speak in English smoothly.

A close friend of mine recently wants to meet me because she wants me to help her writing in English Language. Every time people ask for suggestions how to master English Language skills, my answer is very simple: practice, practice and practice. I tell them that I have learned the language since I was a small kid, probably 10 years old. What they regard as amazing thing is an ordinary one for me because I have grown up learning the language. It is the skill that I have developed entirely out of curiosity.

For a kid growing up in a remote area, very far away from Indonesia’s capital, what I have experienced with English Language is weird. It was love at the first sight. The first time I knew the word ‘the’ my eyes sparkled. I and the language have entwined an intimate relationship since then.

My love for the foreign language has grown deeper when I was accepted as a university student majoring English Literature in 2002. Studying for almost five years in a culture city namely Yogyakarta, I found ‘my tribe’. I have made good friends with classmates, lecturers, seniors, juniors and fellows from other majors who encouraged me loving culture, language and social sciences in general. Spending years in academic environment that puts more focus on math and physics from elementary until middle levels, what I obtained during the college years is enlightening.

If you think my connection with English Language always brings nice stories, let me tell you that is not always the case.

After years reading novels in English Language, especially books from Victorian Era, I now forget how to enjoy reading books in my own language. As strange as it may sound but I can’t ‘read’ books in Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian Language. Each time I try reading books in Bahasa Indonesia, I can’t put my soul into it. I find a lot of words or expressions that are strange or illogical because my mind has been too westernized.

I limit myself to read short stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I can no longer enjoy digest thick novels. I have spent years reading books by John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy but not those by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s most leading novelist. Not only this makes my understanding about local literature is very narrow, I, too, find it difficult every time I attempt to write my own novels in Bahasa Indonesia. How would I write books in Bahasa Indonesia if I knew I wouldn’t enjoy doing it?

The picture is taken from this.