Six blog posts in and I’ve finally put up something to do with Indonesian literature.
Leila S. Chudori has been a figure in Indonesia’s literary landscape for almost forty years now. She became a published author at the tender age of twelve (!!!), having written children’s shorts for Indonesian magazines. Her output gravitated to literary fiction as she grew older. She has published two short story collections: Malam Terakhir (The Final Night) and 9 dari Nadira (9 from Nadira), along with a full-length novel: Pulang (Going Home). Chudori is something of a generalist when it comes to writing; fiction is not her only forte. A prominent journalist who has interviewed Cory Aquino, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela, and Robert Mugabe, she has also written scripts for a television drama and a film.
9 dari Nadira opens with the suicide of Kemala Yunus, matriarch of the Suwandi family. Her youngest child Nadira serves as the narrative’s center as the book chronicles her grief and how she and her family trudge on with life. The stories themselves move in a chronological order, but within the stories are flashbacks that date to when Kemala met future husband Bramantyo. 9 dari Nadira is both family saga and historical fiction. It touches upon various historical events such as the Malari Incident up to the World Trade Center collapse. But the book presents these moments in a naturalistic fashion; it’s more of how an ordinary family reacts to historical movements rather than a close-up of the movers and shakers of history.
I want to be patriotic and give 9 dari Nadira four out of five stars, but I have to be objective and give it three stars. There is indeed some great writing in 9 dari Nadira. But I am a literary glutton and I wanted more more more of that great writing, of which there wasn’t enough. Chudori experiments a lot in 9 dari Nadira; with different styles and different observers. Sometimes the experiments pay off, often they fall flat to me. I preferred when Chudori worked with the traditional third person point of view. My favorite stories in the collection: “Melukis Langit” (“Painting the Sky”) and “Ciuman Terpanjang” (“The Longest Kiss”) are simple in style and execution. But simple is effective. Chudori’s diction in these stories are strong and her wit is sharp. I wanted more of that throughout the collection.
In no way 9 dari Nadira is a bad book, however. It is a quick, absorbing read. Once I picked it up and started reading, I found it difficult to put down. Even the lesser stories were a breeze to get through; cumbersome 9 dari Nadira is not. I suppose I am simply very picky when it comes to giving four or five star ratings.
9 dari Nadira is a portrait of modern city living. If you’re thinking of approaching this book to give you an insight into traditional Indonesian culture, you shouldn’t bother. The Suwandis are intellectuals and Nadira is a successful journalist. They are well-traveled and well-read. In fact, the final story in this collection, “At Pedder Bay,” is set in Canada. Downtrodden third world countryfolk are not to be found here.
An English translation of Leila S. Chudori’s short stories is available. It is a mash-up of the stories from 9 dari Nadira and Malam Terakhir entitled The Longest Kiss, a translation of one of 9 dari Nadira’s short stories. An amazon link is provided below if you’re interested: