Kaleidoscope 2016: My Top Ten Books


There’s a lot of extraordinary things happened in 2016, in both good and bizarre ways, including in my life. In the middle of 2016, I finally began my journey to pursue my postgraduate degree in Australia. Getting prepared and trying to survive my first semester at the university have hindered me to properly read for the last six months of 2016. Luckily, I did manage to complete my 2016 reading challenge to read 50 books, even though in terms of genre diversity my 2016 readings were not really varied. Most of them are Tempo series on Indonesian historical events and persons, poetry books, short stories, small novels, and quite a few of international literature.

However, in this week Top Ten Tuesday, I’m going to highlight my top ten reads during 2016. Here we go.

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
One of the best works by Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle tells the story of an urban young man named Toru Okada who’s in search for his wife’s missing cat and later his own wife who left him without a word. His desperate search has encountered him with numerous bizarre characters and situations where the boundary between reality and dream sequence is blurred. Murakami’s mesmerising prose and brilliant translation by Jay Rubin will make the readers feel highly attracted to his surrealistic world.

2. Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger)
Long-listed for Man Booker Prize 2016, Man Tiger (the English version of Indonesian published Lelaki Harimau) surprisingly begins with a gruesome murder of a half-aged man by a quiet young man named Margo who innocently admits that there’s a tiger inside of him. The story then continues to the uneasy life of Margo and his family and ended with a plot twist which explains the beginning of the book. Highly dynamic and tense, this light novel is recommended to those who never read Eka Kurniawan’s before and for those who have a desire to read contemporary Indonesian literary pieces.

3. Orang-Orang Bloomington (The Bloomington People)
Contains seven short stories, this book is about the author’s close observation of the daily life of people who live in Bloomington, a small town in the state of Indiana, United States. Even though the author tells the stories of simple and seemingly insignificant things of everyday life, it feels like those stories touch the complexity and physiological aspects of human being: loneliness, anger, insecurity, betrayal, indifference, feeling of strangeness. It’s one of the author’s classics and one of the best Indonesian short stories in my opinion.

4. Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas (Just Like Revenge, Yearning Needs to be Paid in Full)
Absolutely barbaric, packed with actions, full of swearing and adult contents. It is one of the most unorthodox best-selling novels in Indonesia. Eka Kurniawan, a Man Booker Prize nominee, builds the story with a strange character and premise: a young man who often goes rampage because he can’t erect his manliness due to an unforgettable trauma. Until someday, he finally finds peace with his own way.

5. After Dark
Haruki Murakami’s novella which follows the story of Mari, an introvert student who spent her midnight at a jazz club. There are actually not so many conflicts involved in this novella as this short novel’s timeline began “after dark” – which is midnight until the dawn which I must admit that it’s one of the novels that have the most unique sets of setting and timeline. Despite its short size, I was pretty much absorbed to this novella just as Murakami’s other works. His poetic descriptions of seemingly insignificant and simple things never cease to amaze me and one of the main reasons I love his works.

6. Tiga Menguak Takdir
1945 not only brought the end of World War II which later also brought the independence of Indonesia as a country and nation but also provided a renaissance period to Indonesian cultural world. During this year, it was established the Angkatan ‘45, the cultural and literary force that renewed Indonesian literature, especially in terms of forms, themes, and expression of ideas. Chairil Anwar, Asrul Sani, and Rivai Apin, the trio who collaboratively launched this poem collection, are among the pioneers of Angkatan ’45. Highly distinctive from their predecessor of Poedjangga Baroe era, which is very traditional in terms of theme e.g. nature and traditions, Angkatan ’45 literary themes were much more diverse such as romance, nationalism, patriotism, freedom of thinking, and life in general.

7. Intelegensi Embun Pagi (The Morning Dew Intelligence)
Dewi Lestari’s final attempt on her Supernova series. After nearly a decade of vacuum period between the first trilogy (the last published in 2004) to the next instalment, this series was finally ended in 2016. Even though I personally enjoyed reading this piece, to be honest, I find it too crowded because there’s a lot of main characters from previous books who lead the plot, side- and background stories to tell, and the not-so-satisfying ending.

8. Mantra Pejinak Ular (Snake-Taming Spell)
Kuntowijoyo was an influential academic, a history professor to be exact, but he was also a poet, an author, and a humanist who strongly bonded with his cultural background as Javanese and his religious view as a Muslim. The strong influences of his cultural and religious background also appeared on many of his literary works including this satirical novel. Mantra Pejinak Ular tells a tale of a young Javanese dhalang (puppet master) named Abu Kasan Sapari who works as a clerk in a small village. After he got a prophecy in his dream that he may tame snakes with a series of mantra (spell) and became famous for his ability to present stories using wayang (two-dimensional puppets made of cow’s skin), he caught himself in the middle of political affairs and intrigues. This novel can be seen a metaphorical and satirical approach to a real condition in Indonesia, especially during the end of Suharto’s New Order regime.

9. Mati Baik-Baik, Kawan (Die Peacefully, My Friend)
Martin Aleida, the author of this short story collection, was one of the political prisoners during Indonesia’s New Order regime. He was accused as a member of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) which many right-wing activists believe has led the coup d’état to Soekarno’s government on the midnight of September the 30th and the dawn of October the 1st (also known as G30S/PKI). After being accused without a trial, Martin has been “secured” in an isolated island of Buru of The Moluccas and live in the captivity for years. His literary works after being released from the imprisonment, including this dark-themed short story collection, revolves around his experience as an ex-political prisoner living in Soeharto’s era which discriminations towards them are not only normally happened but also encouraged by the government.

10. Melipat Jarak (Folding the Distance)
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Sapardi Djoko Damono (SDD), one of the most acclaimed poets in Indonesia, a compilation of his 75 best and latest poems has been launched. This collection includes his selection of works that have been previously published during his latest 17 years of the literary career of 1998–2015. Sapardi is infamous for his simple approach towards dictions and refining the meaning of words in his poems and sonatas, his strongest form of poems. He is also well-known among Indonesian youth due to his effort to musicalize his poems, one of them is his lyrical poem Hujan Bulan Juni (The Rain in June).



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