“One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.”
And thus begins Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, set in the lovely Indonesia! (Are you intrigued yet? Because I sure was!)
This novel follows the life, and death, (and afterlife?) of the beloved prostitute Dewi Ayu and her children, beginning just before the dawn of World War II.
Dewi Ayu was the most dazzling, most highly prized prostitute in the (fictional) port city of Halimunda. She has three beautiful daughters…and one horribly ugly daughter, awkwardly named Beauty. Her beautiful daughters are all highly sought after by the men in town, of course, but Beauty’s ugliness scares everyone away (or literally makes them throw up). However, it’s not clear if her ugliness is a blessing or curse…
This is a very long book – almost 500 pages! – and there’s a LOT happening here! There are also a LOT of characters in it, but the cool part is that they all tie in together at the end. The book spans roughly 60 years, from late colonial Indonesia to the economic crisis of the 1990’s. A lot of the symbolism seems to derive from Indonesian ghost stories, which is cool and creepy all at once! (I totally got lost down a rabbit hole looking up some of the different ghosts that tie into this book lol).
I will say I was surprised at how political the book got at certain points, simply because I would not have expected that based on the opening lines. I really liked how Kurniawan interwove the ghost stories with the political aspects – that kept it from getting too preachy or boring, I think. That being said, since it’s such a long book, you’re going to have to be kind of committed to reading this one in order to really enjoy it. But if you’re ready for a long read, this is definitely recommended!
What have you read from Indonesia?