Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini-An Indonesian Short Story

"The Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini (2009, 6 pages, translated  by Pam Allen from Indonesian)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

This is the third in a series of five posts I plan to do in honor of Indonesian Independence Day.    So far I have posted on "Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy a very moving story about the love between a mother and daughter that is also a poignant account of long term martial abuse.    I also read and was very impressed by "Her" by Titus Basino about a shameful martial betrayal that cuts deeper that mere adultery ever good.    Both of these stories are from the 21th century and  are very worth reading.

"Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini is a very new story that feels like it could have been written 1000 years ago.       Rusmini (1967) is from Bali.    She is a well known poet, short story writer and novelist.    She is a frequent speaker at literary festivals in Indonesia as well as abroad.   Her most famous novel, Earth Dance has already been translated into German and an English translation is in the works.   

Bali is famous, other than for its overwhelming natural beauty of course, for the beauty of the wood carvings by artists working in this medium.    The central character in this story is a blind from birth wood carver with an international following.    As the story begins I am not sure if this is to be taken as the recreation of an ancient myth or if some of the narrative remarks are to be seen as the emotional response of the characters.    In the interesting and intriguing opening remarks of the story we get a good feel for the tone of "Century Carver":

"I am the one who will serve all your needs—from this moment on, till the end of time." The voice sounded nervous.
"What did you say your name was?" Kopag began to calm down a little.
"Srenggi," the voice quivered. It was the voice of a woman. What was happening to him? Kopag cursed himself. He had the strange sensation of suddenly being submerged in the ocean. The voice seemed to be full of honesty, compassion and sincerity. Kopag was sure his judgment was right: this was the one, the woman he'd been seeking for centuries. And now God had sent her for him. A woman, was that really the voice of a woman?

 Kopag (I did a Google check on this term to see if it refers to an ancient figure but it seems not to) has been blind from birth.     His wealthy father was a man of extreme promiscuity who delighted in having relations with the most corrupt sort of women even though he had a lovely wife at home.    He was often away for months on business.   The father returns home very sick, pale and thin.   He then rapes his wife and from this union Kopag is born blind.  His mother died given birth to him.   He receives no love or affection of any kind as a child.    The father sees he has a gift for carving wood into magic works of art so he has him trained in this field in the hope he will be useful one day.  

Kopag feels an overwhelming love for the woman he feels God has sent him.    Everyone in the village can see she is very ugly and in fact is deformed.    Everyone in the village ays Kopag's brother is married to a woman of great beauty.    Whenever Kopag hears his sister- in- law speak he smells rancid blood where those who see only with their eyes see beautiful full red lips.     

The ending to this story is very moving.   The whole story can be read in a few moments so I will not give away no more of the plot.    The story feels like it could be part of an ancient wisdom text.     I endorse this, and the other two stories I mention in this post, without reservation at all.   I am really enjoying discovering these new to me Indonesian writers.     

"The Century Carver" can be read online 

I plan to post on another short story by an Indonesian writer tomorrow.    Now that all three of the stories I have posted on are by female authors I will continue on with this.

Mel u


Suko said...

This one sounds intriguing. I will read it later--thanks for the link!

Mel u said...

Suko-I hope you enjoy it