Golden Moments, 18-31 March 2018

The idea for this post is shamelessly ripped off from inspired by the wonderful holdsuponhappiness. Her blog is one I constantly come back to: cozy, cheering, and charming. Golden Moments is a series on her blog that I take pleasure in; stories of recent events and little items that make her daily life happier and brighter.

Sometimes, I am hesitant to write more lighthearted content. Part of me isn’t sure it’s “me” (the Internet would type me as someone with “zero chill”) and part of me doesn’t think it would be interesting for readers. Yet evaluating the little nuggets of gold that brighten your day is surprisingly effective self-care. Looking at the photographs I compiled for this post made me smile and a little happier.

Warning: this is an unusually photo-laden post.

March 18

I mentioned in my last post that I went on a short vacation to Manila, Philippines in early February. One of my favorite cafes in Metro Manila so far is Wildflour, a cozy/contemporary brunch spot. Last time I was there, I had a thick wedge of sourdough with homemade ricotta, strawberry jam, and granola on top. With a cup of coffee, it was breakfast heaven.


On March 18, I replicated the dish. I mean, come on. It’s so simple a toddler can do it. I did, rightfully, substituted the strawberry jam with raspberry. The extra tartness of raspberry jam provided a sharper and tastier contrast against ricotta. My less-photogenic version below:

wildflour wannabe

It’s a really good breakfast option to keep in mind, by the way. Requires no effort, but feels slightly more special than regular toast or cereal.

March 20


My baby brother sent me this photo. Yes, with the heart-eyes emoji. That black-and-charcoal business bag was my birthday gift to him. He loves it. It is now his daily office bag, his gym bag, his travel bag; he takes it everywhere. I’ve seen him take it everywhere too.

His delight was hard won. My big-sister instinct told me he would love it. Also, a proper business bag was a genuine gap in his list of possessions, making it a practical present. But I was nearly dissuaded from the purchase by my mother, who told me he wouldn’t use it – he was too much of a backpack loyalist.

Considering the happy outcome, however, three cheers for big-sister instincts!

March 23

ricotta omelet

Behold my omelet-folding skills! I really am honestly proud of this minor talent. Do you know how many wonkily shaped omelets I had to cook to get to this level? Actually, you don’t really want to know.

This is a simple ricotta and spinach omelet, by the way. No sense in wasting leftover ricotta.

March 24

senja di jakarta

Senja di Jakarta (Twilight in Jakarta in English translation) is an Indonesian classic and I enjoyed it far more than I expected, considering how Mochtar Lubis’s other famous novel Harimau! Harimau! left me indifferent. Lubis to me was our answer to Hemingway. Their writing style and chosen themes were similar. I have enough thoughts about Senja di Jakarta to write a review, so it will come… eventually!

March 27


This big baby is a living, breathing antidepressant. He whines a lot, roughs around, gets dirty all the time, bites, licks like a maniac, is unbelievably naughty, and is possibly the most spoiled dog that ever lived. But I forgive him every time. He is so loving and affectionate and he never fails to make me feel loved – by endless licking and constantly parking his big bum on my lap and giving me puppy eyes. I am so weak, guys. Help me!

March 31


I’ve always been terrible at physical activity. P.E. was consistently my worst subject in school. Compounding my lack of natural talent was indifference. I find running on a treadmill and most gym activities so boring, yet competitive sports like soccer are a nightmare of planning and effort. I tried yoga and found it boring as well.


I’ve found my sport, though – it’s swimming. I took swimming lessons as a little girl for a few years and mastered the basics, but it is only now that I’ve developed a genuine appreciation for it. You can go hard and fast if you want to or follow a relaxed pace when you need to. Swimming helps you focus on the present (otherwise, you’ll start swallowing the pool water) and it’s an individual sport – no logistical faffing or interacting with a bunch of people you don’t know well.

It’s funny that only one of the Golden Moments above features a book. This is, after all, a blog focused on literature. But it makes sense for a Golden Moments blog post to feature various facets of the blogger’s life. The blogger’s blog may specialize in literature/beauty/sports/current events/whatever, but that’s not the lone element of the blogger’s life. And thank goodness for that. My life would be much poorer without a spectrum of interests.

What I’m Reading

Man, getting back to fiction reviews isn’t easy. So let’s try a fluffy post to get the writing juices flowing.

I am firmly on the “one book at a time” camp. And yet. There had been four books that I wanted to read next and I truly could not decide which one beckoned most seductively.

One of the defining traits of a perfectionist is a “should, should, should” mentality: I should have done more work today. I should be doing something productive. I should focus my attention to one book only since reading multiple books has never worked in the past.

Well, literary polyamory may have never worked for me in the past, but I am working on my perfectionism. So screw rigidity! Here are the four books that lured me away from book monogamy:

  1. Social Media is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson


In my efforts to learn more about marketing, especially social media strategies for modern marketing, I browsed the business shelves of NYC’s The Strand Bookstore. I ended up with two books from that section: The New Rules of Marketing and PR and Social Media is Bullshit.

I was excited to read Social Media is Bullshit, because I read a few pages of it at the Strand and found it gripping – plus, I think a contrarian viewpoint would be a refreshing antidote against the breathless thinking that social media is the answer to all your business ills.

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good book so far. I’m not finished, but I’m more than halfway through and I dislike the author’s dour and overly cynical tone. His analogies don’t always make sense and some of the math is wrong. I do hope those issues were caused by human error rather than an insidious attempt to get readers to agree with his arguments. The book wasn’t well-edited as well, I spotted grammatical mistakes here and there.

  1. Kubah by Ahmad Tohari


Tohari wrote my very favorite Indonesian novel, the venerable Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (English translation: The Dancer), and I love his prose in general (see here), so it’s no surprise that I’m enjoying Kubah (roughly translated as Dome) very much. In fact, Kubah gets the second-most reading time after Social Media is Bullshit.

 Like Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, Kubah’s plot thread is put in motion by the infamous 1965 coup in Indonesia. While I love how Tohari treated the subject in Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk – that is, with sensitivity and complexity, I have my concerns about Kubah. The main thematic of the novel seems to be rediscovering religion and spirituality and I worry whether the denouement of Kubah will be nuanced and satisfying. Fiction that tackles this theme can end on an overly moralistic or simplistic tone. I hope I am proven wrong, though.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Maybe it’s time to get a new one…

I wanted a comfort read to go along with the shiny new things. I tried to fight the desire, yet whenever I attempted to stop adding Pride and Prejudice on my reading list, my inner Catherine de Bourgh threw a tantrum. In her immortal and hilarious words: “I insist on being satisfied!”

What can I say about Pride and Prejudice? Saying it is one of my favorite novels ever is hardly original. Look at the state of my copy! I once dropped it into a wet bathtub during a reading session.

There really is no point in providing a plot summary. Who doesn’t know the story gist at this point? Suffice to say, every time I pick up Pride and Prejudice again, I just feel so damned happy.

  1. Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo


I’ve been talking a lot about perfectionism in my last two posts and this book is a big reason why. I’m only forty pages in and haven’t gotten into the strategies to utilize in daily life, but I’m impressed so far. Better than Perfect is very easy to read while still being insightful. The first segment is more about what makes a perfectionist tick, and reading the first chapters feels like multiple slaps in the face.

Dr. Lombardo includes a Perfectionist Self-Assessment in Better than Perfect. I scored 109 out of 120, which made me cringe. I mean, I obviously knew I was a perfectionist, but 109 out of 120 seems pretty extreme.

I might finish the other three books first before devoting entirely on Better than Perfect. It’s probably a good idea to focus on the self-help tactics with no distractions.


And we’re done! I must say, I’m delighted that Kubah and Pride and Prejudice are on my current reads stack. I’m so hopelessly behind on my Classics Club Challenge.

June Low-Buy Report

Um, hello. I’ve been a bad blogger: neglecting my blog, ignoring comments from lovely people. Work has been intense but that’s no excuse. Besides, I miss blogging.

Good news: I stayed within my budget this month. June was only my second month of noting all my discretionary spending but already I see results. My biggest spending is concentrated on reading materials and beauty products and in June, I only came away two books and one Urban Decay eyeshadow poorer.

Of course, it helps that two lovely friends gifted me two novels each. So in total, I got six new books in the month of June.

Clockwise from top left: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, Mariana by Monica Dickens, The Book Collector by Alice Thompson, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Bekisar Merah by Ahmad Tohari, and From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra

I studied abroad in London as an undergraduate. That was when I found out about the glorious Persephone Books. I visited their shop and bought Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey for myself and Miss Buncle’s Book as a birthday gift for a flatmate. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is mediocre – the only dud Persephone I’ve read. But Miss Buncle’s Book stuck with me. My flatmate couldn’t stop thanking me and praising the novel to the high heavens. How charming it was! How funny! How adorable! And so I fell into book lust.

This was some years ago. A dear friend asked if she could get some Persephones from London for me, which was already lovely in itself and I didn’t want to burden her so I only asked for Mariana by Monica Dickens. I’ve wanted Mariana ever since I read that Persephone reissued it because they wanted to publish a book similar in feel to Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

(I Capture the Castle is wonderful forever. Read it, read it, read it!)

The friend said, ”There’s something else you want from Persephone that you aren’t telling me. Spill!” Some persistent nudging and a recounting of my long lust for Miss Buncle’s Book later, here I am with both novels. Friends who trained to be therapists can be so eerily perceptive.

I had asked for The Book Collector by Alice Thompson for my birthday this year. I was seduced by Salt Publishing’s description of the novel on their website, which reads:

Alice Thompson’s new novel is a Gothic story of book collecting, mutilation and madness. Violet is obsessed with the books of fairy tales her husband acquires, but her growing delusions see her confined in an asylum. As she recovers and is released a terrifying series of events is unleashed.

Gothic fiction might just be my favorite genre and The Book Collector promises to have the uncanny and the locked-up madwoman in spades. I’m also intrigued because the description promises touches of modernism and meta within the Gothic and the horror.

A good friend couldn’t find it online so she got me Kelly Link’s short story collection Magic for Beginners instead. She recently found The Book Collector on Book Depository, however, and pounced. Oh, and she added The Vegetarian by Han Kang on her cart since I’ve been eyeing it too.

(I have such wonderful friends, guys. Slap me if I ever take them for granted).

I’m sure most of you know by now that The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize recently and tells the story of a South Korean woman who renounces meat in a society where vegetarianism is rare. It’s the themes that made me want the novel badly. Gender politics, mental illness, and societal imprisonment are all themes I love and cannot stop reading about.

My pangs of regret on buying Bekisar Merah by Ahmad Tohari waxes and wanes. Ahmad Tohari is the Indonesian author I adore most and I have resolved to reading everything he has written that is currently available. However, purchasing Bekisar Merah could have been delayed. I had several unread Tohari books already and now I feel guilty every time I approach my bookshelves.

Oh well. What’s done is done. And at least Indonesian novels are cheaper than imported ones. I remember little about the synopsis of Bekisar Merah except that it is a historical fiction novel that follows a mixed-race woman throughout her life in Java as she navigates a society that is hostile towards her.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to read more educational material. Maybe political, maybe historical. Usually, I would pick up Time magazine or the Economist when such desires flow but this time I wanted it in book form. I read the blurb of From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra in a local bookshop and was immediately fascinated. The Victorian era was a horrible time for Asia – most areas had been colonized and From the Ruins of Empire details the intellectual response of Asia. Some figures want to stick to traditional roots, some become moderates, and others became convinced that a radical ideology was the answer.

I might read From the Ruins of Empire first but I don’t know. My mood changes daily. Anyway, thank you for sticking through this unnecessarily long post. I hope you enjoyed oohing and aahing over my new books with me.

Belenggu (Shackles) by Armijn Pane

Read and reviewed as part of my Classics Club Challenge

Published in 1940, Belenggu (or Shackles in its English reincarnation) is widely considered the first modern Indonesian novel. I agree with this assessment. Prior, Indonesian prose focused on the dramatic romances of star-crossed lovers with rotten villains twirling metaphorical moustaches. Granted, early Indonesian literature had cultural and social commentary to make up for the soapy melodrama, but for the most part, novels like Sitti Nurbaya have always elicited eye rolls from my part.

Belenggu is a love story too. A love triangle, in fact. However, the novel was written in a radically different way than its predecessors. There is no antagonist; all the conflict is strictly internal. No one is a paragon of virtue or a symbol of all evil. It is also a city novel, unlike previous prose that favored rural settings.

Despite its revolutionary status, however, I didn’t like Belenggu much.


Tono and Tini’s marriage is fading. They scarcely spend time with each other and when they do have to face one another, Tini is angry and bitter while Tono is nonplussed and retiring. Worse, their ideologies clash. Tono wants a traditional wife who stays at home and takes off his shoes. Tini wants independence and freedom – she explicitly states that she has the right to go out anytime, just like her husband.

When Tono meets his childhood playmate and neighbor Yah again, he finds in her the woman of his dreams. Yah is warm, polite, and completely devoted to pleasing him. It is not long until they fall into an affair.


Despite the summary, Belenggu couldn’t be further from torrid. This is a thinky, Freudian novel – with massive amounts of thought processes and philosophical meanderings. My biggest problem with Belenggu is that for its modern storytelling approach to work, the fictional characters had to be at least somewhat believable. The characters in Belenggu are not, sadly. After a certain point, they even stopped speaking like normal people. Going further, they became symbols. Or conduits for Pane’s philosophical reflections.

My edition of Belenggu (I read Shackles, the English version) is only 162 pages long but the story dragged so badly. There really wasn’t much of a story to begin with – which makes all the thinking and philosophizing and symbolizing feel like copious padding.

Pane tried to tackle a myriad of themes in Belenggu: equal rights, politics, ideology, gender relations, philosophy, even the meaning of life. Yet all of them fell flat and none of them stood out.

The usage of shackles as a motif is good. Everyone in Belenggu is shackled by something: shackled to a marriage, shackled to an ideology, and most of all, shackled to the past. Motifs alone don’t make a good novel, though.


Overall, I think Belenggu is valuable mostly for scholars studying the development of Indonesian literature. If you’re a casual reader wanting a readable novel, look for something more contemporary.

Pulang (Home) by Leila S. Chudori

What was that old chestnut? “Second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience.” Yeah, that’s the one.

Forgive me for trotting out that dead horse, but the quote perfectly encapsulates my relationship with Leila S. Chudori. This was a third marriage, even, since I have read two of Chudori’s past books, the short story collections Malam Terakhir (Final Night) and 9 dari Nadira (9 from Nadira). I always enjoy the clarity of Chudori’s prose but was never truly blown away by her fiction. Both collections I would rate 3 stars on goodreads.

So when I found myself purchasing her latest work and first novel Pulang, the rational part of my brain sighed ‘What, what, what are you doing?’ Taking advantage of book discounts, of course, I answered back.

It turns out, sometimes irrationality pays off. In Pulang, Chudori realized all her writerly potential. She was always a great writer, but her short story collections either lacked that special something or just never gelled together.

I smiled when I shut Pulang’s final page. It’s been a while since I read an Indonesian novel this good, which in turn, makes me extra happy and patriotic to recommend Pulang.


Pulang is one of those epic novels that is multigenerational and spans multiple countries, with a backdrop of important historical dates and events. While the scope is large, Pulang also feels intimate because Chudori focuses more on family relations and lovers and friendships.

The novel is split into three major sections, each told from the point of view of different characters. Dimas Suryo, displaced and declared persona non grata by his own homeland, begins our novel. He was a journalist who mixed with a leftist crowd. Unfortunately, despite having neutral values, he chose the wrong time to make friends with liberals. The year is 1965 and his connections make him suspect. Suryo was lucky to have escaped with his head, fortuitously attending a foreign news conference with close coworkers. However, Suryo and his friends are now political exiles, moving swiftly from country to country until settling in Paris, France. Suryo falls in love with a Frenchwoman, marries, has a child, but can never escape his roots.

Lintang Utara, Suryo’s daughter with Frenchwoman Vivienne Deveraux, is struggling with her final uni project, a documentary. Her chosen topic, says her advisor, is exhausted. Why not film something about Indonesia? Your roots are there and people don’t talk much about Indonesia. Doubtful at first, Utara ends up agreeing and packing her bags for Jakarta. Meanwhile, in our final segment, Segara Alam, son of a persecuted 1965 man, heavily dreads the arrival of the half-French/half-Indonesian girl, expecting her to be slightly spoiled and very clueless. The year is 1998, which marks another earthquake, quite dark, in Indonesian history.


Pulang focuses on intellectuals and there are many references to literary writers, highfalutin artists, and their ideas and works. Don’t be fooled, though. This isn’t an abstract, experimental treatise. Part of the reason why I loved Pulang so much is its nimble plot, old-fashioned storytelling, and healthy dose of drama. There’s the terminal father, the love triangles, the rapturous swooning at first sight. Pulang feels classic in a slightly Dickensian way.

As always, Chudori’s prose is beautifully fluid, clear, and readable – and she always picks the most intriguing metaphors, which makes Pulang, despite its ambition to be dense, actually a page-turner.

Pulang isn’t a perfect novel though (is there a perfect novel?). Everyone’s POV sort of blends together. It doesn’t help that they all like and reference the same authors and philosophers. I did giggle, because in my subjective opinion, it perfectly describes the clique-like hive mind of some intellectual groups. It’s a bit unlikely though, because I got the feeling from her previous collections that Chudori is actually quite worshipful of academic types.

Kudos to Leila though. Pulang is far better nuanced than her previous writing. Not all intellectuals are holy martyrs and not all those in the establishment are cruel despots – in Pulang, Chudori fully acknowledges that people are gray and unsure.

But some of my quibbles remain the same. This is not the first time a woman who (shock! unbelievable!) has a healthy appetite is considered so revolutionary. Oh, and women who love shopping have nothing in their silly little heads, donchaknow?

I really wished these sentiments weren’t repeated in Pulang. It’s 2016, people! Women can love fashion and makeup and still be very intelligent. Ugh!


While I think it’s fair to note their issues, I still recommend Pulang wholeheartedly. The storytelling is great, it’s a page-turner, it’s well-researched, and it is the culmination of Chudori’s powers as a fiction writer. Pulang is a great Indonesian novel. Heck, Pulang is a great novel full stop.

Has an English translation published by Deep Vellum Publishing, for which I have a small rant.

I’m not sure why the blurb at the back has to mention the Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing just because both works focus on the 1965 events in Indonesia. I mean, I get it. Indonesia is a largely invisible country and the copywriter probably wanted to orient readers to the historical backdrop of Pulang (Home). But it has the unfortunate effect of making it sound like Pulang has to piggyback off The Act of Killing when Pulang is an excellent novel that stands on its own. I hope I don’t sound like a nasty paranoid for finding this annoying.

Current Reads: A Double Whammy of Easy-Reading Andreas

I had thought of prefacing this post with an announcement: a new and very positive development in my life will hinder me from posting as often as I’d like. But then I had to laugh. I have always been and will continue to be a frustrating, sporadic poster. Oh well. Anyway, I’m not happy yet with how my review of Leila S. Chudori’s Pulang (Home in English translation) is coming along.

(A part of me is kicking myself for being so slow with Pulang’s review. It’s good to strike now, since Texan Deep Vellum Publishing has brought out a new cover. But I justify myself by saying that I really like Pulang and there’s a lot I want to cover in my review)

So I’ve decided to upload something more relaxed. Here’s a commentary on the two novels I’m currently reading: Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy and Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops in English translation) by Andrea Hirata. A chance to overanalyze similarities between two unrelated novels? English lit graduate here, that’s my forte – yes, please.

In all seriousness, it’s not hard to spot the resemblance between the two. Both Andreas try to tackle tough topics; Levy with racism and the second generation immigrant experience, Hirata with education and social disparity in Indonesia. Neither are thin novels, but worry not about being bogged down. Stylistically, the themes are wrapped in an easy, readable package.



My focus right now is on Fruit of the Lemon since I’m almost at the finish line. The novel doesn’t cater to those who demand their literary fiction dense and challenging. Fruit of the Lemon is a quick & easy contemporary read, with some stock tropes. The protagonist feels like a chicklit heroine sometimes. There’s awkward humor and eccentric roommates typical of a sitcom. I’d caution you not to expect a deep, dark novel in Fruit of the Lemon.

Fruit of the Lemon focuses on Faith, a recent university graduate and daughter of two Jamaican immigrants. The first half of the novel is all about Faith’s life in England; her new job, her crazy roommates, and her family. Unlike other novels I’ve read of the immigrant experience, there’s little emphasis on the first generation’s attempt to preserve motherland culture for their family; no painstaking description of Faith’s parents preparing Jamaican dishes, no reference to an English Jamaican community, no long-winded stories about Jamaica from the parents. This is a family that doesn’t look back to their roots. Faith knows very little about Jamaica and her relatives there. In the first half, Faith’s identity is thoroughly British. Until little things and bigger events start to make her question that once-strong sense of identity. The second half of Fruit of the Lemon is set in Jamaica, where Faith learns more about her history.

If Fruit of the Lemon is easy reading through and through, Laskar Pelangi has a weightier style that belies its unprecedented blockbuster status. Andrea Hirata is clearly someone who is fascinated by different fields of study; botany, history, literature, astronomy, you name it. And it shows! Laskar Pelangi is enthusiastically dripping with unusual metaphors and references. 60% of the time it works. His turns of phrase are odd and singular and smile-inducing. The other 40% of the time? Sadly clunky. It works more often than not, though. Also, like Fruit of the Lemon, Laskar Pelangi is compulsively readable – I couldn’t put Laskar Pelangi down when reading. I only resumed Fruit of the Lemon because I really wanted to finish it, otherwise Laskar Pelangi would be done first.

Hirata needs a better editor though. He is so passionate about everything that he can spend three pages describing a plant; from its Latin terminology and species, to its elements, to its medicinal properties. Laskar Pelangi is nearly 500 pages in my Indonesian edition and it can easily be cut.

Laskar Pelangi is advertised as a novel, but everyone in Indonesia knows it’s really a thinly-veiled autobiography. The book tells anecdotes and stories from a dilapidated classroom in Belitung Island, Sumatra. The class is comprised of ten ragtag students from poor families. Laskar Pelangi does both close-ups and wide shots. We follow the kids’ adventures and stories during their school years and we get a bigger view of the gap between the rich and the poor in Belitung Island. Belitung is known for its tin (today, local government is trying to diversify their source of earnings). In the social pyramid, the majority are tin laborers and at the very top we have executives with their own gated, sheltered community, unaware of how the “others” live.

I’m nearly sure I will rate Fruit of the Lemon 3 stars on goodreads, unless something mindblowing happens in the final chapter. I have no complaints against it. The prose flows very well and the novel is well-written. But I don’t think it has that special something that elevates it to more than “a good, easy read.” Laskar Pelangi is trickier. Right now, it’s between 3.5 and 4 stars. It’s unputdownable with a conscience but has some flaws I can’t ignore. I’ll probably have a better idea when I actually finish the book.

Enjoy your weekend everyone! I hope you spend it with good companions and good books.

This is Not a Travel Blog

This is not a travel blog, but let’s make an exception for this post. On March 9, areas in Indonesia experienced a total solar eclipse. My mother surprised me with a two day trip to Belitung Island in Sumatra, one of the hotspots for watching the eclipse.

(By surprise, I mean more of an ordered “I bought tickets and we’re leaving on March 8.” Is there anything I could say other than “OK?”)


A good friend asked, “What was like to experience a solar eclipse?” At the risk of sounding spiritual, I told her I felt small. The universe is so large and extraordinary and mysterious.

I have no photos of the eclipse itself since I have no proper camera for the event. There were plenty of dedicated photographers though. Some people climbed rocks and builders to achieve the perfect angle. A tourist attached three different filters to his serious camera. So I’ll bet there are excellent photos of the March 9 solar eclipse you can find online.

What I do have are photos of the beach and the ocean. In the hopes of imparting some aquatic delight towards you, here are some photos from my island hopping adventure – taken immediately post-eclipse watching.

Tanjung Tinggi beach in the early hours

The same beach later in the morning

The view from inside our boat

A lighthouse on Lengkuas Island, one of the smaller islands off Belitung

Rock formations off an island

I was most enchanted by the ocean’s color. It’s the Pacific Ocean, but never have I ever before seen ocean water so flawlessly turquoise. Any chance a dress could be made with the water’s color?

The boat dropped anchor in the middle of the ocean and I took a dip into the waters. What an experience! I saw coral reefs of many patterns: large and Rafflesia arnoldii-like or small and ornate. Best of all was the fish. Mostly they were small and flat; some zebra-striped, some lemon yellow, and best of all, a more rounded, longer fish of the most beautiful color. No other shade could describe it but royal blue.

(No photos for my underwater antics either. No waterproof camera. Ducks rotten tomatoes)


This is not a travel blog, so I made a literary stop at Belitung. I went to Museum Kata Andrea Hirata (literally Andrea Hirata’s Museum of Words). Andrea Hirata is an extremely famous Indonesian author, most-known for his Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops in English translation) tetralogy. The first novel in the series, titled simply Laskar Pelangi, was an unprecedented blockbuster in Indonesia. Readers and non-readers bought it. Movies were made. A musical was staged. Settings in the book became tourist attractions in Belitung Island. People began to care more about children’s education in the area. It’s a term overused these days, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call the Laskar Pelangi quartet a cultural phenomenon.

Photo of the museum’s welcome board

The museum is basically a monument of Laskar Pelangi’s success. There were newspaper clippings about the books, the author, and their impact. There were posters of international book covers and a selection of Hirata’s novels in every translated edition. Not really a tourist must-see but I rather liked the building itself. The color scheme is so vivid and whimsical and childlike, which reflects Laskar Pelangi’s subject matter. If I am not mistaken, the artwork are from Hirata’s own hand – the works were signed by him.

Laskar Pelangi international editions

The museum walls

A sign saying: Indonesia, let’s go to school! Never give up!


This is not a travel blog, so let me update you on my bookish ways. I finished Pulang (Home) by Leila S. Chudori prior to my Belitung excursion. I loved it, definitely the standout novel of the year so far to me. A gushing review will follow in a few days and for the curious an English translation has been brought out by Deep Vellum Publishing.


I’m currently in the middle of two novels: Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy and Laskar Pelangi by Andrea Hirata. Both are quick, easy reads, it turns out. I’ll review both when I’m finished. Just call it a double Andrea book whammy!


When You Have Obviously Lost Some Brain Cells

I keep fiddling with books. Picking them up, opening them then putting them down. Anything but reading them, it seems. I’m finding it difficult to focus lately, finding it arduous to concentrate. I must have lost some brain cells throughout February. Reading for both Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and Pulang (Home in English translation) by Leila S. Chudori skidded to a halt.

I’m not enjoying Snow Country. Research had deluded me into believing that it was meant for me since plenty of readers lauded the lyrical prose. When I take a step back and think about the novel overall, I can see its appeal. The prose is crystalline, with glimmers of poetry but never ostentatious. Yet I’m not moved by the writing. The plot, an entanglement between a Tokyo dilettante and a hot spring geisha, feels pointless and draggy to me. I keep on reading hoping everything will eventually gel together. Reading like this is a bit draining but I stubbornly persist because Snow Country is only 175 pages (but feels neverending).

On the other hand, I cannot blame books that are not to my taste for the February slump. Pulang by Leila S. Chudori is so far an excellent book. I’d rate it five stars on goodreads where I am now. It is about exiled Indonesians following the bloody events of 1965. Told from multiple perspectives, multigenerational, and multicultural, the scope of Pulang is epic. It’s very compelling but I just can’t focus on it at the moment. It’s just as well that Pulang has been set aside for now. It deserves to be put down until I am in the proper mood to appreciate it.

I’m not a TV/movie person. I enjoy them, of course, but invariably choose books over other forms of media. It speaks of my state of mind that I have turned to film and telly throughout February.

Macbeth is my very favorite Shakespeare out of the plays of his I have read so far. I have watched many adaptations of the Scottish play and was very excited to have the 2015 version starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard grace Jakarta cinema screens last month.

I’ve been waiting for this version of Macbeth to screen ever since the casting news broke out. I think Fassbender and Cotillard are both very fine actors and I am happy to report that both were indeed well-cast. While Macbeth (2015) has not displaced the 2010 version starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as my Macbeth gold standard, it came pretty darn close. In fact, I debated whether the 2015 version is now my favorite.

Rupert Goold’s 2010 version is appropriately bombastic and over the top, mimicking the text’s mood perfectly. I will never forget the image of Stewart and Fleetwood joining bloody hands, walking stiffly, and looking like deranged wedding cake figurines. Macbeth (2015) is more subtle, still ruddy and vigorous, but in the new film you really get just how much Macbeth and Lady Macbeth loved one another. Of course I melted. The Macbeths’ relationship is my favorite aspect of the play, its grand tragedy being how the Macbeths destroyed a perfectly loving relationship on the altar of their ambition. I watched Macbeth (2015) twice and recommend it highly despite the mixed official reviews.

I also went to the cinema for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, following a dear friend’s request. I haven’t read the quirky book retelling but I have a soft spot for Jane Austen’s original source material. Pride and Prejudice is a book I turn to again and again whenever I need my spirit lifted. Unfortunately, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the film will appeal more to those who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. Characters behaved differently from their established personalities. It was terribly jarring to see Elizabeth Bennet be gratuitously antagonistic and rude. Yes, she is prejudiced and cutting in the source material, but not to this extent. Mr. Collins came across as inexplicably charming, another strange phenomenon. I also got the distinct impression that the director, scriptwriter, and crew completely forgot about the moral conventions and values of the time period. I can’t give examples for fear of spoiling scenes, but it’s easy to say I don’t recommend this movie.

My much-loved friends have pestered me to watch the hot new anime One Punch Man. I finally relented mid-February and I am now obsessed. I was deeply skeptical at first. The conceit is unconvincing. A hero who defeats all opponents with a single punch? That sounded like the worst story idea. How are you going to develop a story? Apparently, you can indeed develop a story. An excellent one, in fact. Surprisingly, despite being a fight shonen anime, One Punch Man is a slow burn, it is character-and-relationship-driven with the action and fight scenes feeling more like a smokescreen. I also appreciate that the story skims on some darker topics like corruption and (what might or might not be) depression. Ultimately, I think One Punch Man is about how heroism is measured by your character rather than your strength and flashy moves.

One Punch Man also serves as a parody of its genre. So of course I love it. Shonen mangas like Dragonball and Naruto were a chunk of my happy childhood and school memories so it is lovely to watch a slice of nostalgia.

Unfortunately, One Punch Man does suffer from a woman problem. There are very few female characters and the ones that exist so far serve to be taught a lesson or as fanservice. Because One Punch Man is an ongoing series, I am fervently hoping this will change in the future.

I am now caught up with the manga, since I wanted more more more of One Punch Man after I ended the final episode of the current season. So I suppose I have done some reading this month: manga volumes. Ten of them.


This blog will revert back to a proper book blog on its next post. Up next is a review of Harvey, a graphic novel by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau. Yes, a graphic novel. Brain not functional enough to handle much text yet. Sorry.


Book Tag: My Life in Books

The lovely Marwhal once again tagged me in a fun book tag that I am very happy to participate in.

  1. Find a book for each of your initials

I have quite a long name, so for brevity’s sake I will only use my first, middle, and last name. All together, they add up to R-C-S. Here are my choices:


R is for Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I read this novel in August and while it is not my favorite book of the year, it is technically faultless. I still think about this novel from time to time; I especially cannot let go of Yates’ masterful characterization. There is a reason why I found Revolutionary Road quite funny, despite its crushing tragedy and that reason is Frank Wheeler. Oh Frank, you silly, silly man. So unlikable! And yet, so shockingly true to flesh-and-blood people. So charming, so charismatic! Yet so false and desperate. So many found you onerous. Yet I found you a delightful scream!


C is for Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, a recent acquisition of mine. I’m very excited to read this, as it has been described as “a literary bubble bath” and “like pink champagne.” Who doesn’t want to read something light and frothy and romantic and uplifting? We can’t all survive on literature alone. Yes, yes, I have clearly misnamed this blog.


S is for Saman by Ayu Utami. Very thought-provoking, especially for a city girl like me. I was –and still am- quite ignorant on how corrupt central government and big business can affect negligible villages. But Saman gives a piercing, distressing portrait on just one small example in novel form. It’s a shame that most of the press this book gets is for its depiction of female sexuality. I would think corruption and human rights abuses should generate more uproar but hey, sex is so distracting, innit?

  1. Count your age along your book shelf: What book is it?


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Gosh, I’m so ashamed to say that I’ve only read book 1 and 2 of this series when I love the story so much. When you can juggle multiple characters and POVs and plot points and characterizations, yet make things comprehensible to the reader, you are a talented author. GRRM is certainly a talented author. I just have too many books. Will try to dive back into the series next year. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

  1. Pick a book set in your city/state/country


Senja di Jakarta (Twilight in Jakarta) by Mochtar Lubis. An Indonesian classic I have yet to read. I hear Lubis is very harsh on Jakarta in this novel since this book is all about Indonesian corruption and the unsavory characters that populate the city. This novel was published in the 60s and everyone who has read it has said the corrupt practices evoked this book is still applicable fifty years later. Since I plan to write an author spotlight on Lubis, I hope to read Senja di Jakarta very soon.

  1. Pick a book that represents a destination you would like to travel to


Out by Natsuo Kirino. This is an odd choice, since Kirino’s depiction of life in Tokyo is scathing. The characters here work numbing, menial jobs. A lot of horrible things are done to people. Yet boring jobs and crime happen in every city. It’s probably not healthy to build an idealized version of any place in your mind. Kirino’s prose, despite her subject matter, is pristine and effortless and I look forward to reading more of her work.

  1. Pick a book that is your favorite color


One of my favorite books has my favorite color as its cover scheme. Perfect. Reams has been written about The Handmaid’s Tale but I do have an unpopular opinion about it. Beneath the din of whether this book is science fiction vs. speculative fiction, my own belief is that this is domestic fiction. This is a book about the small spaces women make for themselves, the steady ways women try to survive despite the grind and oppressions of life.

  1. Which book do you have the fondest memory of?


The easiest question! The Adventures of Tintin. Thanks to Herge, my first big dream was to travel the world. I was sad that reviewing Tintin on this blog proved to be an unpopular endeavor, it seems that not a lot of people care for this series anymore. Yes, some sentiments are outdated. Yes, there’s racism in Tintin in the Congo. But Tintin is life-affirming too. The most beautiful depiction of friendship! The lesson that changing yourself for the better is hard and will slap you with setbacks, but you can do it. And Captain Haddock! Who doesn’t love Captain Haddock?

My favorite of the series (and this was excruciatingly hard to decide) is probably Explorers on the Moon. An engaging plot, the funniest slapstick and dialogue, and a darkness I did not expect to see at something aimed for children are the ingredients for something truly sublime.

  1. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?


The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. So many sleepless nights were spent during high school trying to figure out whether the nanny was insane or if there really were supernatural forces at work. I still have nothing. I still don’t know anything! Not to mention, James had a lifelong torrid affair with commas. Gosh, he loved endless sentences. It was exhausting trying to make sense of his excessive clauses

  1. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest sense of achievement?


Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Russian epic. Bigger-than-a-brick tome. Nuff said.

I know I’m supposed to tag others in turn but I’m not sure who would want to be tagged. I love being tagged but I don’t think this sentiment applies to everyone. So anyone who wants to do this tag, please go right ahead!

First Page Impressions – Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger) by Eka Kurniawan


Indonesian edition of Lelaki Harimau

Pity us Indonesian bibliophiles! Books at bookstores are plastic-mummified to such vacuumed perfection that it is impossible to flick through novels and get a feel for the writing before buying. Word of mouth, an author’s popularity, and plot blurbs are all well and good. Yet they do nothing to capture an author’s prose.

Perhaps luck was on my side the other day. Or perhaps the blue moon peeked through. Insert other hoary phrases here. Very recently, I found some unwrapped books at a mall bookstore and had fun snooping the contents. But I’m writing this to talk about the first page of one specific novel: Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger) by Eka Kurniawan.

Eka Kurniawan is one of the brightest stars of contemporary Indonesian literature. Lelaki Harimau has been translated to English, Italian, French, and German. Meanwhile, his other famous novel Cantik itu Luka (Beauty is a Wound) has been freshly published in English by the New York based New Directions Publishing to critical acclaim. Seeing his popularity, some predict he will equal Pramoedya Ananta Toer in being the most readily available Indonesian writer internationally. Belying Kurniawan’s place in Indonesia’s literary establishment is his age. Born in 1975, he is very young for his accomplishments.


English Edition of Beauty is a Wound

It is with shame that I’ll admit: I only learned about Kurniawan’s works and existence quite recently, sometime this year, prior to the English publication of Cantik itu Luka. Out of curiosity, I bought a plastic-wrapped Cantik itu Luka and it has languished on my bookshelf ever since.

Seeing an unbound copy of Lelaki Harimau, I thought ‘why not? I don’t even know what his writing is actually like’ and proceeded to read the first page. Boy, what an experience.

One word: cacophonous. The first sentence alone battered me with an avalanche of words. It was sensory overload. Kurniawan’s sentence structure is long, elaborate, and stuffed with excessive commas. If it sounds a bit Henry James, it’s only in structure. Kurniawan is no realist and there is nothing dry and Victoriana about his writing. Kurniawan’s style is lush and baroque almost to excess. It’s also lyrical, although the writer’s aim clearly isn’t “prettiness” as the writing is deliberately juxtaposed with bawdy, vulgar diction. The overall effect is raucous and transporting.

If there is one author and work Kurniawan is giving a wink to here, it’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The first sentence of Lelaki Harimau is obviously a send-up of One Hundred Years of Solitude’s opening line. A death, a pivot on said death, and poetic description.

This is a writer who demands your attention. You don’t write like this unless you want attention.

The first page of Lelaki Harimau both repulsed and attracted me. Kurniawan is clearly ambitious and the cynical part of me thinks his writing screams “Give me a prize! NOW” For all the highbrow name I’ve given this blog, I’m more interested in good old-fashioned storytelling than literary experimentation. I was repulsed from reading the second page because the novel’s effect is just too much, too dizzying. It’s not what you want when you are just casually strolling by.

Yet I am also intrigued. Does Kurniawan’s ambition match his skills? More importantly, something about Kurniawan’s prose serves as a metaphor for Indonesia itself. Kurniawan’s prose is, as I mentioned, cacophonous, luxuriant, sensuous, excessive. Indonesia is a country that is brash, colorful, loud, lush, abundant, unsubtle, beautiful. You need to focus if you want to take everything in or it’s just a battery of sensory overload.

My attraction is obviously stronger than my apprehension as Cantik itu Luka is moving up on the priority reading list. I just need to make sure I have a clear, focused mind before I attempt it.