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Myth and History: Writing from Indonesia

August 2015

Image: Heri Dono, "Shooting Nose,” 2014 83x138 cm, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Image: Heri Dono, “Shooting Nose,” 2014 83×138 cm, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

This month we present writing from Indonesia, where history and myth inform a rich narrative tradition. For many of the authors here, writing is both vehicle and subject, and their work represents and addresses the art and act of storytelling. Though the writing often turns toward the fantastical, at no time do the mythic elements here overshadow the stark realities and social struggles that permeate these stories: questions of women’s rights, fanaticism and provinciality, respect for nature and its creatures. Hasif Amini interrogates the origin of poetic invention, Taukik Ikram Jamil writes to and of a lover, and Clara Ng’s retired teacher agonizes over the daily fairy tale essential to his survival. Mona Sylviana’s cad turns a confession into entertainment. M. Iksaka Banu finds a journalist embedded with Dutch colonial invaders witnessing a tragic episode from the bloody Balinese past. In two tales of revenge, Abidah El Khalieqy’s defiant prostitute shows up her client and tormentor, and Zen Hae’s sly crow turns avenger. Acep Zamzam Noor mourns disaster and indicts the government response. We thank our guest editor, John McGlynn of the Lontar Foundation, who has done more than anyone to bring Indonesian literature to English-language readers. 

Myth and History: Writing from Indonesia
By John H. McGlynn
In October of this year, Indonesia will make its appearance as the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair—the first country from Southeast Asia to be so honored.
By Abidah El Khalieqy
“True. I am a whore. What of it?”
Translated from Indonesian by Joan Suyenaga
The Crow
By Zen Hae
But what caught most of his attention was the man’s wings.
Translated from Indonesian by Marjie Suanda
writing you
By Taufik Ikram Jamil
. . . the letters are reluctant to sound out / voices i knew / voices i memorized
Translated from Indonesian by John H. McGlynn
The Moon and the Magician in the Red Jacket
By Clara Ng
How could anyone survive on a primary teacher’s pension?
Translated from Indonesian by Pamela Allen
A Tale of Redemption
By Mona Sylviana
“So you’re hiding a communist, are you?”
Translated from Indonesian by Toni Pollard
All for Hindia
By M. Iksaka Banu
I will find a way to get this letter safely to your hands, although it may take a long time.
Translated from Indonesian by Tjandra Kerton
By Acep Zamzam Noor
I heard the singing and dancing / In the village square / Suddenly fall silent.
Translated from Indonesian by John H. McGlynn
By Hasif Amini
Poetry is a pen that is dreaming.
Translated from Indonesian by Marjie Suanda
The Wild Cherry Tree
By Linda Christanty
When I was still in primary school, most of my time was spent up in that wild cherry tree.
Translated from Indonesian by Debra Yatim