Literature | Monday, 14 June 2010 | sundanesecorner.org
PPSS (Association of Sundanese Literary Forums), a Bandung-based small organization run by some Sundanese writers, organized a book discussion at Gedung Yayasan Pusat Kebudayaan (YPK/Cultural Centre Foundation), in Bandung, Saturday afternoon, June 12th. Along with Dr. Safrina Noorman of UPI (Indonesian University of Education), I was invited to join the forum, and tried to put forward my simple account of Kunanti Dirimu di Yunani (I’ll Miss You in Greece), a novel by Tuti C. Atmawidjaja. Tuti was born in Bandung, and since 2004 she has been living in Holland. First issued in 2009, this novel marks her debut as a writer.
It tells a story about Amalia, an Indonesian postgraduate student in Holland who shares an apartment with her schoolmate, Sita. Though basically lacking of self-confidence in her physical appearance—coloured skin, flat-nosed, thick lips, etc.— amid Western people, Lia found herself of being loved by European men: Dalibor, a Kroatian in Greece, and Pieter, a Dutch in Portugal. She met Dalibor on her vacation in Dubrovnik, yet their engagement didn’t last as Lia returned to Holland. Then Lia met Pieter, a Dutch man who lived in Portugal, when she was on vacation in Lech, Austria. The uneasiness of her love affairs centres on the cultural differences between Lia and her lover: despite her true desire, she prevents herself from any extramarital sexual relationship—something that was finally broken in her engagement with Pieter.
As far as its setting is concerned, Tuti’s work has added a new detail to one of the interesting aspects of contemporary Indonesian novels: the inclination to tell stories about someone in finding the self amid foreign socio-cultural settings. From Habieburrahman el-Shirazy to Jamal, several novels have appeared on the scene, trying to attract readers with details of daily life in foreign countries. To some extents, both the authors and their characters seem to fit the characteristic of what the late writer Y.B. Mangunwijaya called “burung-burung rantau” (wandering birds), i.e. an Indonesian new generation. It, perhaps, represents a new orientation in contemporary Indonesian cultural life: finding the self in a broad horizon. Soewarsih Djojopoespito, the author of Buiten Het Gareel, might have long dreamt the self-image of Indonesian lady such as Lia since the colonial era: highly educated, independent, and charming. Such a characterization of woman extremely contradicts the old stereotype: “heureut deuleu pondok léngkah”—which literally means ‘have narrow-minded views, and stay near home’.
These novels, including Tuti’s work, represent a nearly particular genre: dealing with love, discussing sexual life in a more open minded way, and also presenting dialogues in English. The setting of Tuti’s work itself spreads out across Europe: Leiden-Amsterdam-Dubrovnik-Lech-Paris.
Does Tuti’s work represent a portrait of a Sundanese lady in foreign countries? Well, I’m not sure. Lia the heroine is told of being come from Subang, West Java.***