Saman by Ayu Utami (tr. Pamela Allen)

Saman book with cover of woman writing on park bench and Empire State building in backdrop; book against blue sky and trees

a nutshell: this unusual novel drops in & out of the lives of several sexually liberated Indonesian women and a former Catholic priest, Saman, while exploring the perils facing a rubber tapping community

a line (or a few): “Something can suddenly evaporate from our memory, like a ghost, like a dream. We can feel the trace of it, somewhere within ourselves, without being able to reconstruct it anymore. We are left with hatred, anger, fear, love. But we don’t know why.”

an image: one character, Shakuntala, envisages her country as swirling with unpredictability, a place where the law oscillates like a pendulum – at one end is inefficiency or an unwillingness to act, on the other are all the ‘excesses’

a thought: women’s rights are a recurring theme throughout the novel, particularly in the chapter by Shakuntala, who rejects a visa application’s insistence that she take her father’s name as Javanese don’t have surnames (instead she decides to split her own name in two: ‘Shakun Tala’)

a fact: published in 1998, the novel was controversial due to its sexual explicitness and even prompted questions as to whether it was Utami’s own work (!!!); it ultimately became viewed as a ground-breaking work and sold 100,000 copies, as well as igniting the sastra wangi literary movement – a category that Utami herself has criticised

want to read Saman? visit here

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (tr. Lawrence Schimel)

a nutshell: this slim novel sees teenage orphan Okomo confront the suffocating rules of Fang culture in rural Equatorial Guinea where, though she’s under pressure to find a husband, her realisation that she’s not into men leads her towards an altogether different community

a line“if a man who is with another man us called a man-woman, what are women called who do the same?”

an image: throughout the book, the forest grows into an increasingly beautiful place full of freedoms, hope & unity

a thought: ‘witchcraft’ is thrown about by the conservative elders as the reason for all manner of misfortunes when in fact the architects of these circumstances are often those in local positions of power – either Fang men or mitangan (missionaries)

a fact: Abosede George’s afterword contributes many insights into the record of past dissident sexualities relating to the discussion around queerness and Africanness (though – for anyone who does read the book – I did disagree with her point that the Indecency Club’s polygamy forms a straightforward contrast with the village’s normative polygamous marriages, since both involve envy & ruptures)

P.S. – this is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English and is very much banned in Equatorial Guinea

 

want to read La Bastarda? visit here