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Indonesia and Beauty is a Wound

“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…

My Conclusion:

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?

Philippines and The Gangster of Love

OK, I’ll be honest: it was totally the title of this book that grabbed me.

And yes, it is referencing The Gangster of Love by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Which totally fits with the theme of this book.

HIPPIES!

hippy

But they’re kind of awesome. So it’s OK.

This book follows the life of a Filipino girl, Rocky, who moves with her mother and brother to the US following the divorce of her parents. The same year they move to the US is the same year that Jimi Hendrix died (1970), which devastates Rocky and her brother.

The plot follows Rocky as she grows up as an immigrant to the US, trying to figure out “how to be,” so to speak, as a daughter, sister, lover, musician, woman, and brand-new American.

I learned quite a bit from this book. For instance, the people from the Philippines are Filipino, not Philippino. And while the Philippines are on super good terms with the US, they are NOT a territory or anything like that of the United States, which I was unclear about when starting this book.

This is a good book. Definitely one of those that you need to re-read to catch all the little references that the author throws in there 🙂

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What have you guys read from the Philippines?

Australia and Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

For this post, I promise with my whole heart NOT to fake an Australian accent.

Promise.

Today’s post will feature Doris Pilkington and her famous book, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Pilkington, also known by her native Aboriginal name Nugi Garimara, based this book on the real-life story of her mother and two aunts who walked 1000 miles as young children across remote Western Australia to be reunited with their family.

For realz, they walked 1000 miles. 1600 kilometers. The oldest kid was 14.

In case you’re not aware of the European settlers’ treatment of the Aboriginal Australians, this book would be a decent place to start. During the 1930s in Australia, it was a common practice to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their families and send them to boarding schools, which doubled as brainwashing institutions where these children were taught to reject their indigenous culture and embrace white culture. This meant they were given new names, forbidden to speak their native languages, and were often told that their parents were dead or had abandoned them. These children have come to be known as ‘the Stolen Generation‘.

In addition, these “schools” offered very little real education, as these children were expected to grow up to perform manual and domestic labor. And there was very little food, and what food there was was often crappy (think Oliver Twist). Oh, and they were often abused.

So, OBVIOUSLY kids wanted to escape these places. If you were caught, you were severely punished – the book describes one boy’s failed attempt earning him a beating and solitary confinement with only bread and water. But even if you did manage to escape, it was literally a 1000 mile journey back home for most of these kids. That’s a only slightly less than the distance from New York City to Kansas City. In the Australian Outback. But these three sisters were determined to journey back home to their family, so they planned a bold escape, avoiding towns and following the “rabbit-proof fence” towards home.

The rabbit-proof fence, by the way, was this super long fence that the Australian government had put up in an attempt to keep rabbits and other “pests” out of fields and towns. It had become a sort of symbol of civilization. Beyond the rabbit-proof fence was the harshest of the Australian desert – as well as most of the free Aboriginal population. The girls’ home was also beyond this fence.

Once again, NO SPOILERS, so I’ll have to stop there. Guys, this book is totally worth your time. It’s super thin – 136 pages with the references in the back. It has also been made into a movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence, which I haven’t seen but would like to.

Have you ever read anything from Australia? I’d love to hear from you!

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