EKA KUR­NI­AWAN

THE AU­THOR'S KOREAN BOW

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Front Page - PHOTO COUR­TESY EKA KUR­NI­AWAN

ASK READ­ERS from around the globe to name their fa­vorite con­tem­po­rary Ja­panese nov­el­ists and they’ll likely an­swer Haruki Mu­rakami or Ken­z­aburo Oe. Ask them to name even one In­done­sian au­thor and they’re bound to get stumped.

Eka Kur­ni­awan’s steadily grow­ing in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­ity, how­ever, is poised to change this.

Born of Sun­danese de­scent in Tasik­malaya, West Java, in 1975, Eka has been de­scribed as “the bright­est me­te­orite” in con­tem­po­rary In­done­sian literature. His bib­li­og­ra­phy in­cludes three nov­els, sev­eral short sto­ries and a num­ber of non-fic­tion pieces.

Eka has also been in­cluded on Pub­lish­ers Weekly’s list of “Writ­ers to Watch” and been pos­i­tively com­pared to Sal­man Rushdie, Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez and Mark Twain.

“Af­ter half a cen­tury,” wrote renowned In­done­sia scholar Bene­dict An­der­son, “Pramoedya Ananta Toer has found a suc­ces­sor.” “His abil­ity to com­bine history, satire, fam­ily tragedy, leg­end, hu­mor and ro­mance is very unique,” noted Anna Soler-Pont, founder and di­rec­tor of the Pon­tas Agency, which han­dles the world rights for Eka’s works.

The writer has found res­o­nance with with read­ers across the world. Now, he’s poised for a break­through in South Korea, a coun­try with no pre­vi­ous sig­nif­i­cant ap­pre­ci­a­tion of In­done­sian letters.

So­hyun Park of South Korean pub­lish­ing house May­books is cur­rently trans­lat­ing two of Eka’s nov­els, Can­tik Itu Luka (Beauty Is a Wound) and Le­laki Hari­mau (Tiger Man), both of which are slated for re­lease in 2017.

For Park, Kur­ni­awan’s works have been cap­ti­vat­ing from the get-go.

“When I started to read Can­tik Itu Luka, I was thrilled by the very first sen­tence, ‘ Sore hari di akhir pekan bu­lan Maret, Dewi Ayu bangkit dari kubu­ran sete­lah dua pu­luh satu tahun ke­ma­tian.’ [One af­ter­noon on a week­end in March, Dewi Ayu rose from the grave af­ter 21 years of death.]

This kind of set­ting and imag­i­na­tion never hap­pens in South Korean literature, where the sphere is al­ways too con­fined in ‘re­al­ism’,” Park said.

“Eka’s works in­cred­i­bly rep­re­sent In­done­sia’s history as a fam­ily chron­i­cle. I wish South Korea had this kind of novel about its own past. At the same time [Eka’s nov­els] are also very con­tem­po­rary, so I thought they could be re­ally great ref­er­ences for South Korean read­ers,” she said.

Eka’s in­tro­duc­tion to South Korean read­ers will mark a big step for­ward for In­done­sian literature in that coun­try.

“Even Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s works have not prop­erly trans­lated,” Park says. “This is the very first chance to se­ri­ously in­tro­duce In­done­sian literature, which has been to­tally ig­nored so far, to Korean read­ers.”

Eka says that the lack of in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in In­done­sian literature is part of a gen­eral prob­lem. “Let’s face it: there are al­most no Viet­namese, Malay, Ira­nian, Korean, etc., rep­re­sen­ta­tions in world literature nowa­days,” he said in an email in­ter­view.

“The world is dom­i­nated by the English lan­guage. At the same time, only three per­cent [of ] books pub­lished in English ev­ery year are trans­la­tions. It’s not a good fig­ure for world literature.”

Eka also thinks that In­done­sian literature might need a change of fo­cus.

“Lo­cal­ism is a good thing, and unique, but can be mis­di­rected into provin­cial­ism. If our literature cares only about our­selves, why should the world have to take a look at ours?” he said.

“Great literature is al­ways about a dialog – per­son to per­son, so­ci­ety to so­ci­ety. A cul­ture with other cul­tures. We have to open our arms to other literary tra­di­tions, and the world will open their arms.”

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