Review – The Book of Jakarta. A City in Short Fiction. Edited by Teddy W. Kusuma and Maesy Ang

Hello Book Lover,

During 2020 I have picked up more short story collections and anthologies than ever before. Maybe it is something to do with a global pandemic and a short attention span, or it could be that one of my favourite publishers in particular keeps delivering the goods when it comes to their anthologies – I’m looking at you Comma!

When I was asked if I would like a review copy of The Book of Jakarta, I jumped at the chance. The new offering from Comma Press features ten stories by contemporary Indonesian writers translated into English. The collection has been edited by Teddy W. Kusuma and Maesy Ang, both of whom are the founders of POST, an independent bookshop and publisher. They house books from Indonesian independent publishers, such as Banana, Marjin Kiri, Kakatua, Ultimus, and are located in Pasar Santa, South Jakarta.

Synopsis.

A group of senior citizens set out to visit an amusement park for one last suicidal ride…

A wannabe influencer takes a driverless taxi through the streets of Jakarta, only to discover the destination she’s hurtling towards is now underwater…

A daughter despairs at her mother’s wish to leave the city forever, until she uncovers the dark secret behind it…

Made up of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on the planet. It is home to hundreds of different ethnicities and languages, and a cultural identity that is therefore constantly in flux. Like the country as a whole, the capital Jakarta is a multiplicity of irreducible, unpredictable and contradictory perspectives.

From down-and-out philosophers to roadside entertainers, the characters in these stories see Jakarta from all angles. Traversing different neighbourhoods and social strata, their stories capture the energy, aspirations, and ever-changing landscape of what is also the world’s fastest-sinking city.

My Thoughts.

I really enjoyed this collection, the variation from the writers is incredibly diverse, the vibrant picture of Jakarta is mixed with the everyday mundane, the surreal and the constant changes that the landscape and people who inhabit this mega city face.

While Jakarta is the main strand which connects these stories, each one is individual, and several were unlike anything I have ever read before. One thing which this book hightlighted is how little I know about the city of Jakarta and the country of Indonesia, I am hoping to expand this by delving into some Indonesian writers and it’s history.

All ten stories have something unique to offer the reader, I have chosen a couple of stories which stood out for me in particular.

Grown Ups by Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie. Translated by Annie Tucker. A group of senior citizens who are known only by the initials of their last name make a pact to take their own lives as they take a day trip to an amusement park. Orchastrated by Mrs P, the horror unfolds as Mrs P, Mrs O, Mrs N and Mrs M use ‘Hysteria’ as the setting for their plan. As the horror unfolds the whole of the amusement Park is thrown into chaos. As macabre as Grown Ups was I thought it was incredible and the last thoughts of Mrs P!

A Secret from Kramat Tunggak by Dewi Kharisma. Translated by Shaffira Gayatri. I am obsessed with mother daughter relationships, usually the the more complex the better. When a mother moves back in with her daugher, her daughter puts her life on hold in order to support her mother and pay off what she believes is a loan shark debt. What transpires is an honest discussion about past life, her relationship with her daughters father and what the future may hold for both of them unless they make some life changing decisions. The ending to this one, made the story for me, I still keep changing my mind as to what actually happened.

Buyan by Utiuts. Translated by Zoë McLaughlin. I think that there are elements of this story that many of us can relate to, Auntie Nana is a slave to social media, while incessantly snapping selfies her driverless car takes a wrong turn and she begins hurtling towards the area of Jakarta which has been submerged underwater. Auntie Nana is unable to control the car, unable to get the main control board to assist so she does what she knows – reports it all via social media. A commentary on the impact which social media can have, how climate change has affected our world and how we detach from reality and rely on technology to see us through.

Finally, The Problem by Sabda Armandio Alif. Translated by Rara Rizal. I loved this story, it also has a fantastic line, when Yuli states that a lot of people use punk as an excuse to be a dick. In this astute commentary through the eyes of two buskers – Gembok and Yuli – it’s 2019, the streets of Jakarta are full of protests, the fear of being arrested and assaulted by police officers is very real as the two friends and Gemboks new friend – who may or may not be a cop – navigate themselves through the city with their instruments.

One thing is for certain, if you are hoping The Book of Jakarta will provide a glossy ‘lonely planet guide’ depiction of Jakarta you will be left wanting. If however, you want to read some of the most exciting new contemporary Indonesian fiction and gain an insight into the worlds fourth largest nation, I highly recommend picking this anthology, you will not be disappointed.

Full list of stories

B217AN 1 by Ratri Ninditya. Translated by Mikael Johani
The Aroma of Shrimp Paste by Hanna Fransisca. Translated by Khairani Barokka
The Problem by Sabda Armandio Alif. Translated by Rara Rizal
Buyan by utiuts. Translated by Zoë McLaughlin
A Secret from Kramat Tunggak by Dewi Kharisma Michellia. Translated by Shaffira Gayatri
Grown-Up Kids by Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie. Translated by Annie Tucker
Haji Syiah by Ben Sohib. Translated by Paul Agusta

The Sun Sets in the North by Cyntha Hariadi. Translated by Eliza Vitri Handayani
All Theatre is False by Afrizal Malna. Translated by Syarafina Vidyadhana
A Day in the Life of a Guy from Depok who Travels to Jakarta by Yusi Avianto Pareanom. Translated by Daniel Owen

A huge thank you to Comma Press for providing me with a review copy. The Book of Jakarta is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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