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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy-A Wonderful Indonesian Short Story

"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy (translated from Indonesian by John McGlynn-2009-8 pages)

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 my second post on an Indonesian writer.    Yesterday I posted on "Her" by Titus Basino.   "Her" is a deeply moving story about a woman who adjusts in a near  saintly fashion to her husband's decision to take a second wife after she had been a very good wife for a long time, giving birth to ten children.    The story will stretch a bit the cultural zones of most of those in countries where a man may have only one wife.   It is a story about an adultery that is not really an adultery but something way more sinister and hurtful to the woman.    It also depicts that this option is open only to men.   A wife in the society cannot decide to take a second husband.

"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy is also a story of marital cruelty and abuse but most of all it is about the purity of a mother's love.    Abidah El Khaliegy is from Yogyakarta in the Central Java region of Indonesia.    She is very successful professional writer having so far to her credit five novels (one made into a movie that did well in Asian markets),  one collection of short stories and is also a widely anthologized poet.   

"Road to Heaven" opens at the funeral of the mother of a large family.    Everyone is shocked by how much younger the mother looks now than she did while alive.     As people view the body her daughter watches the faces of the mourners to see their feelings.   There is real love in all of the faces but one that shows an angry near jealous disdain, shamefully it is the woman's husband.    We begin to learn why as the daughter has a moment of final clarity and begins either to in fact converse with her deceased mother or to imagine she does.   Here is her mother's account of why the husband was upset to see she looked twenty years younger dead than when living.   It is relief to be away from the husband, pure and simple.

A telephone rang in my heart. "He's jealous, extremely jealous," a disconnected voice said. With the smile of an angel on her lips, my mother looked very young, as if she had returned in time to her age as a young woman, on the day she got married twenty years ago.
"This is my true face," Mother whispered softly, "that of a new bride on her wedding night." She spoke firmly and with determination: ". . . a night that began with a dazzling party at our new home that faced the silent mosque, yet ended with body blows and painful memories."
She continued without hesitation, recalling the point in time when pain became part of her life: "It is this look on my face that made him kick me, that stirred undying jealousy in him, that caused him to curse me, and to take me by force on our wedding night—just because I performed tahajud, the midnight prayer, at the mosque in front of the house."

This night and the mother's observation of the midnight prayer enraged the husband as he felt he was the only one entitled to special relationship with God.

As if experiencing a case of stage fright, I found my body began to shake, a condition I always experience when my emotions are running high. I felt a rush of heat, a gush of pain, a pounding inside my chest, as I shed my first tears for Mother.

This is a story about women as property.   It is not a story of the poor but of the rich.   It a story of a male belief that men have more a right to access to God than women.   

There is much more in this wonderful story.   It is not that long and it can be read online Here.   I really urge all who have time or an interest in women's issues to read it.    

I hope to post on three more Indonesian short stories in honor of Indonesian Independence Day.

Mel U


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds like a tough, but worthwhile story....great review.

Mel u said...

Bibliophile by the Sea-I hope you can find time to read this story-ten minutes tops-as I would love to see your reaction to it

Suko said...

Now here is another new-to-me author of short stories. What a unique way to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day!

Novroz said...

It's a sad story Mel...thank you for sharing this.

You, tho not an Indonesian, make me want to read more Indonesian writers. So far, I've only read 2 Indonesian writers. Shame on me

Mel u said...


Novroz-this was great for me also