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review 2015-07-22 03:01
Jepun Negerinya Hiroko by Nh. Dini
Jepun Negerinya Hiroko - Nh. Dini

Jepun Negerinya Hiroko is a memoir of a French diplomat’s wife during her living in Japan. This memoir took place after Kemayoran, after Dini was proposed by Yves Coffin. She began her life as the diplomat’s wife in Japan. She spent her days in Japan by taking French cooking class, watching her friend’s ikebana class and learning Japanese language with her Japanese friend. Her sociability helped her to get some new friends, including some close friends whom she would need to endure her tough days with her husband. As how the previous memoir was, we were shown many things she observed during the time-frame of this book. She observed the characters of her Japanese friends and the intricate details of Japanese buildings and environment. However, there are significantly less historical events mentioned, compared to her previous memoirs that took place in Indonesia.

 

Since Dini got engaged and married Yves, she noticed that her husband was either changed or simply not as perfect as she thought. He became stingy and temperamental. Because of his moody trait, they kept changing their household assistant. Each assistant could not bear with his impatience and harsh scoldings, while the ones who could bear it were recalled by their family to get married. Thankfully, Yves was still willing to help with the household chores. The middle to the end of this memoir told us how Yves' photography hobby took more and more portion of their daily life. In contrast, Dini had a hard time keeping up with her writings, of which Yves perceived as an unproductive hobby that could not be monetized. Even Dini had to hide her novel's draft to avoid Yves' anger for bringing "useless thing" during their travels. As tough as it was, Dini gave her best to bear with Yves’ difficult upbringing, for the sake of her baby and her family in Indonesia.

 

Thankfully, her days in the wonderful Japan were not just all about living with her difficult husband. She got to know some Indonesian, Japanese and French friends who helped her a lot. They helped with her daughter's milk, borrowed each other's clothes and jewelries, and taught her some tricks to deal with her stingy husband.

 

As mentioned earlier, this memoir captured significantly less historical events compared to the previous memoir. In contrast, there are significantly more descriptions of the places she visited and stayed in Japan, Hong Kong and Vietnam. There are a lot of people introduced in this memoir. Sometimes it could be confusing, and unfortunately Dini tend not to refresh our memory when some characters reappeared after a long while. For example, during their visit to Hong Kong, they stayed at their acquaintances' place. The acquaintances appeared without any introduction, which made me assume that they were already introduced in the earlier chapter. However, there are so many characters that I could not recall when they were introduced!

 

Because of the detailed descriptions and daily life events that dominate this memoir, sometimes I found myself bored when reading this. However, if we intend to follow her memoirs up to the latest one, this memoir is an important part that shows us the gradual change of Dini and Yves' relationship. This memoir may also tell many new things for readers who are not familiar with Japanese living yet.

 

Maybe I found myself bored partially because there are not so much things that are new to me as a Japanophile. However, this shows me that the daily life in Japan in the 1960s is not significantly different from the present. Many still hold traditional value, and some out-of-traditional-norm relationships such as premarital domestic partnerships, mistress-keeping and one night stands in love hotels were already seen as not-so-unusual back then. However, I may be biased, considering that Dini is known for her explicit sexual descriptions and openness to taboo topics in her writings since her books were published in the 1990s. Apparently, some of her books were banned because they were considered vulgar in the New Order Era.

 

I would recommend this book for people who have read Kemayoran and intend to read Dini's later memoirs. This memoir can also be considered as Namaku Hiroko's behind-the-scene, as it was obviously inspired by many events occurred and people Dini met during this memoir's time-frame. 

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review 2015-07-22 02:59
Kemayoran by Nh. Dini
Kemayoran - Nh. Dini

I have been familiar with Nh. Dini's fame since I was in junior high school (approx. 14-15 years ago). Some excerpts of her works were featured in the linguistic and literature lessons in my school. I have intended to read her books since ever, though somehow this book is actually the first of her books I ever read.

 

Kemayoran is Dini's memoir as a stewardess. She chose to work after graduated high school instead of becoming a full time university student because she did not want to keep giving financial burden to her family. Despite being welcomed to stay at her uncle's place, she also worked hard to find a room for rent so that she would not be a burden, and so that she could get ready to work along with her colleagues. Besides working as a stewardess, she took French and B-1 History course to become a teacher. I personally admire Dini's hard working attitude and work ethics. The spoiled me is obviously nothing compared to her.

 

Gaining her superior's favor with her work ethics and passion in reading, she and her team (The Big Five) were promoted to serve the president and his honorary guests from The Soviet Union. Her sociability and intellectual features got her acquainted with many prominent figures she encountered during her work, including Soekarno and his favorite foreign journalist, Bernard Kalb. She also got acquainted with some foreigners, including her future husband. Many reviewers expressed their notice on Dini's sociability and openness to talk about things that were (and still are) taboo with men, such as pre-marital sex and domestic partnership. The way she interacted with her male friend reminded me of what Ayu Utami told in her memoir, Pengakuan Si Parasit Lajang. I did not feel surprised that she decided to stay together with her male friend in a hotel room during a gathering of literary authors and artists, though it must still be considered taboo among Indonesian traditional and religious society, especially during that age.

 

As a writer, Dini enjoyed people-watching a lot during her work and her break time, besides reading books. This book tells a lot about the people she observed and the life during The Liberal Democracy Period in Indonesia. She described the daily life of the only national airlines' employees in the 50s. She observed the distinct characteristics of different generations of air crew, as well as different ethnic group's habits from her colleagues' behavior. I like how I can learn about the life in the past through historical fictions and autobiographies like this. Dini also wrote her commentaries on some historical events that were occurred during her career as a stewardess, from Soekarno's agreement with Worosilov of the Soviet Union, the rise of some rebel movement such as PRRI; Permesta and Darul Islam, to the rise of Indonesian Communist PartyLekra (a literary and social movements associated with the Communist Party) and its counterparts from non-communist factions. Her commentaries are usually not explicit to the political aspect, instead they are more to their implications to the people.

 

This memoir is linked with Dini's four other memoirs from different phases of her life: Sekayu, Sebuah Lorong di Kotaku, Padang Ilalang di Belakang Rumah, and Kuncup Berseri. I have some of her other works in my TBR pile. Some of them are memoirs that took place in the periods after Kemayoran's time-frame, some others are fictions. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I am looking forward to read a lot more of her works, especially her autobiographical books.

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review 2015-07-09 03:04
Burung-Burung Manyar (The Weaverbirds)
Burung Burung Manyar - Y.B. Mangunwijaya

Burung-Burung Manyar is opened with an episode of the Javanese adaptation of Mahabharata. The main story is divided to three sections, each took place in three different periods in Indonesian history: The Late Occupation (1934-1944), The National Revolution (1945-1950), and The Early New Order (1968-1978). Having written more than 20 years ago (1981), the classical Indonesian literature feel is incredibly thick here. There is many Javanese and Dutch terms that are explained on the footnotes. This reprinted edition also contains footnotes that explain old terms in Bahasa Indonesia that are already uncommon nowadays. There is still many old terms left unexplained, though. But then again, if they were explained, this book would consist of mostly footnotes. After a while, I became familiar with the terms and storytelling style. With the classic feel under the historical setting, I felt like time travelling to the periods where the story took place.

 

The Late Occupation 

 

The story in this period centers around the Keraton Mangkunegaran. It shows the feudalistic life of Javanese royal society, where women must show her deep submission to her husband. It was opened by the male protagonist's narration, Teto, during his childhood. Then the female protagonist, Atik, was introduced. It was a happy, rather funny childhood of army and royal family. A few chapters later, things turned grim since the Japanese occupation began. The Japanese occupation grew strong hatred towards Japan for Teto. Atik's family also felt the same hatred, but they were also learned the civilized side of Japanese culture outside the fascist military in the World War II through music and movies. They also realized how the Javanese royal's tradition also has its civilized and cruel side.

 

Indonesia will not be a cruel independent state. - Atik

 

The National Revolution

 

After the declaration of Independence Day, Teto became a lieutenant of NICA, whereas Atik became a pro-revolution who adores Soekarno, Sutan Sjahrir and the rest of the Republicans. Despite their growing love, they keep opposing each other's political stance. In Teto's view, Indonesia needs some more time to mature as a nation before they gain its independence. He detests the Republicans who seemed like hypocrites who obeyed the Japanese to gain their own will through political maneuver. In Atik's view, it was more like "now or never". Life free or die hard.

 

You have to be able to read between the printed lines. Otherwise, you are just a mere captive of the texts. - Atik

 

In this period, we were introduced to Verbruggen, a Dutch Mayor who proposed Teto's mother in the past (obviously rejected). Having brought Teto to become a lieutenant in significantly short time and took an influence in Teto's character development, he became one of the important characters in this book. He has a foul mouth, but a fair amount of wisdom in contrast. We were also introduced to Karjo and Samsu the Setankopor (The Briefcase Demon) who will be shown again in the next period.

 

This period was ended in the midst of the devastating result of the two Politionele Acties (Agresi Militer Belanda) that brought both Indonesia and the Dutch military force much grief and loss, as shown on both Teto and Atik's side. Meanwhile, they began to realize how they long for each other. However, the harsh reality kept drifting them apart, much that Atik began to reconsider her long wait for Teto's proposal.

 

The Early New Order 


There is quite much time skip from the previous period to the last period. After the Roundtable Conference, Teto quitted from NICA and studied Mathematics in Europe to be a computer expert. In addition, he gained a new nationality, which was not mentioned explicitly in the book (though I assume that he became a Dutch). He became the Production Manager of a multinational oil company. In this period, he visited Indonesia for the third time since he got the new nationality. He visited his new best friend, John Brindley, an European Ambassador who keeps pet snakes in his garden. Afterwards, he attended Atik's dissertation defense. Accepting Atik's family's invitation, Teto decided to stay at their place for a while. How will Teto and Atik's relationship develop, after years of separation and opposing ideals?

 

In this period, Teto seems to already calmed down significantly. He grew up and accepted the loss he has been experienced since ever. He also began to accept the changing era and acknowledged his own mistakes. Like the rejected male weaverbird, he rebuild his nest - his life and dignity - after passing through the phase of anger and denial, where he furiously destroyed his rejected nest (ideals).

 

Beside showing the societal and political aspects that were occuring in the corresponding periods, Romo Mangun (the author's nickname) also took us back to experience the changing ecological condition of Java in the 40s to the 70s. The scene where Atik fed the birds and watched their behavior told me how diverse the city birds in Java back then. It shows how srigunting, jalak, gelatik, manyar and kutilang were still commonly wild in the cities in the 40s. The diversity gradually decreased and finally the wild weaverbirds became rare in the 70s. Nowadays, there is mostly sparrows and occasionally a few more kinds of city birds roaming in the cities of Java. The other kinds of birds are mostly kept as caged pets today.

 

There are many things that I like from this book. I like how I got to refresh my memory on the history of Indonesia through the three periods shown in this book. Even instead of refreshing my memory, I felt more like diving those periods, experiencing the events occurred there from the Republicans and the Dutch armies' side. The narration style, of which I assume adopted the way people talk in the corresponding periods, really helped to live up the atmosphere. I also like how this book shows how people from different sides in this book perceive the three periods that were used as time settings. It taught us to sympathize with those different sides, even if they are commonly seen as the antagonists.

 

This book ends beautifully, leaving a bittersweet feeling that seemed to have accumulated since the second period. However, it felt a bit odd when I realize how Karjo and Samsu was not furthermore involved in the story. What is the purpose of their presence, other than to describe the society and political issues in their corresponding periods? Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I would love to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical literary fictions.

 

The international edition of this book, The Weaverbirds, was published by Lontar Foundation in 1991. Unfortunately, the edition is already considered rare now. I hope Lontar Foundation will consider to reprint this book in the future so that this book can be accessible to more readers.

 

Anyway, I have not encountered footnotes in fictions for ages until I began to read this book. Is it because I have not been an avid reader for some time until recently, or it is indeed already uncommon nowadays?

Source: mimikatti.blogspot.com/2015/07/book-review-burung-burung-manyar.html
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