Happy stories , Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Happy stories , Mostly  by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Indonesian fiction

Original title –  Cerita-cerita Bahagia, Hampir Seluruhnya

Translator – Tiffany Tsao

Source – personal copy

I was pleased that I decide to try my first subscription last year and chose Tilted Axis it paid of when there were three of the books I had been sent from them on the long list of this year’s booker. I had partly read this one but then as happens it had been in my bag for a while then I just put it on a shelf and hadń gotten back to it as I am like a magpie attracted to the next shiny thing. This is the debut fiction collection from Norman Erikson Pasaribu one of the leading writers in Indonesia he has written both poetry and fiction and was said to be in the long tradition of queer catholic writing by English pen. the book also has a very insightful conversation-style interview between the writer and translator which I found very insightful. This collection came out in 2014 and was a huge success in Indonesia and lead to him winning the best young writer in South Asia. This collection of 12 stories vary in length from the first which is a single page most are between 10 and 20 pages long.

Mama sandra would bring some home for him whenecver she worked the morning shift, beofre she returned in the evening. The cart she brought it from could usually be  found at the intersection by the clothing factory in Bojong menteng where whe used to work. The Vendor liked to hang around the middle school nearby. from there , shé walk back to their house in Rawalumbu, a bag of sweet fluffy cloud swinging from one hand. Once home shé recline on the mat in front of the tv, her head propped up on one elbow, cradled her palm. Bison would sit nearby , leaning against the wall. Piching off pieces of cotton candy, heý warch the family quiz show that came on every evening, laughing at impatien fathers and micomunicating siblings, The last hindred times shé recalled this ritual they shared, mother and child, Mama Sandra had cried

A long passage but capture the power of a foood memorey and the loss due to suicide which is so hard .

I chose to just mention three of the stories in the collection and leave the other for you to find the first is the so whatś your name, Sandra? the tale of Mama Sadra who had recently lost her son Bison (she named as she liked the word and how it sounded). She has chosen to use all her leave and do something to go to My son in Vietnam. As her friend Mama Anton says she and Sandra grew up in a small village and they know of no one that has ever been abroad. She arrives in Vietnam where we see her eating cotton candy. She visits a temple at the end of this story it has a very strange twist. The next story is the following story about a broken heart this story has a couple of lists of how to get other a broken heart as a student tries to get over that lover. Then we have the story Welcome to the department of unanswered prayers which sees someone in a sort of corporate version of heaven where they are introduced to the job in the department but also told about what happens and how they are expanding as more Koreans are becoming Christian.I loved this story it was a fun look at the afterlife in fact in a way it brought to mind the world of Brazil the film where we have a world of bureaucracy gone mad.

Welcome to the department  of Unanswered  prayers ! Hereś your ID. When itś time to go home, put your badge in your bag and leave your bag in your car, tather than tossing it some drawer, I mean, or chucking it somewhere inside your room, Doń worry no one will steal it. And doń to forget to bring it tomorrow and the day after and all the days after that . You need to get past security anc to access the main entrance, the department, the sub departments,the letter storage facility and the archive

This made me smile the beaucratic take of heaven !! rememeber the badge.

really got into this collection when I started it again it goes here and there but it was after the reading when I read about how he wrote and the use of Food like cotton candy and in other places there are macdonalds meals he uses these as a springboard as memories are strong around food and can take you to a time and place so well. Then he also so mention music in the second story I mentioned he had chosen Blue by Joni Mitchell as his heartbreak album. For me, my heartbreak song isń on an album but going to Macclesfield college and passing Ian Curtis’s house most days as I walked into the town where he wrote Love will tear us apart which for most guys of my generation is a break-up song. He is a writer that uses surreal images, traditional Batak imagery and his love of food and music he talks tough subjects like Suicide which is part of the So whatś your name story a subject that always need talking about. One of three strong books from Tilted axis for this year Man Booker. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – +A a new voice from a country that hasń been translated enough

Man tiger by Eka Kurniawan



Man tiger by Eka Kurniawan

Indonesian fiction

Original title Lelaki Harimau

translator  Labodalih Sembiring

Source – personnel copy

Winstons score B+ a fresh voice from an emerging country in translation in English , owes much to Marquez but worth reading.

Eka Kurniawan had been on my radar since his first novel beauty is a wound appeared last year, so when the second book by him Man tiger appeared on the man booker I was pleased to get the chance to add Indonesia to the list of countries this blog has covered. Eka Kurniawan grew up in a small coastal town and studied philosophy he is also a graphic designer. Also in the introduction to this book there is talk about how Eka discovered books and the two books he loved that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the old crime novels of the detective Nick Carter.


Boar hunting had become their pastime many years ago, back when Sadrah was still the town’s military commander. Anwar Sadat himself had always been highly enthusiastic every time the harvest season ended, when people were no longer bound to the soil, which was left fallow temporarily. Although he had never raised a spear or run up and down the hills, he always provided boxed meals of rice and fried egg and a truck to take the hunters to the jungle’s edge. Three times a year they enjoyed this sport, going on the season’s non-stormy Sundays. Between hunts they would tame ajaks and train them to course their prey.

Anwar like Margio was a hunter as well .

I don’t often read introductions to books but am pleased I did to this one as it placed the work in context to me. Baring in mind the book is 11-year-old, its safe to say this is a book written firmly under the spell and style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If Marquez had grown up in a small coastal town in Indonesia this is possibly the book he would have written. Man tiger follows, the death of Anwar Sadat (am I the only one that find it is strange the choice of a Egyptian president that also like the main character in this book is shot) . Now this is a not a who dunit as we know who shot him it is more a whydunnit in a way.Anwar was shot by Margio a young man with a white tiger as a friend whose famlies past has often crossed with the womanizer Anwar Sadat a failed artist. What drove the young man to kill the older man who had been a thorn in his families side for so long. Margio talks about the tiger also being inside him.

The coffin was covered by a golden sheet with silvery tassels, inscribed with the words of the Shahada. Kyai Jahro led the salawat chants as it left the surau, a few people following behind, mostly Margio’s friends who had been hunting boars on the mountain and gave no thought to their mud-smeared clothes. Margio was among them, right next to the coffin, scattering the flowers Mameh had picked along the way. Komar bin Syueb was to be buried at the Budi Darma public cemetery, accompanied by frangipani and champak, a furious little Marian waiting for him on the other side

I loved the atomsphere of this passage it evokes the place so well .

I enjoyed this As I said it remind me of Marquez but also of Classic crime from America where it isn’t always a whodunnit but more of whydunnit as I said this also harks back to the classic crime novels of Latin America where it is more about the scene than we in the uk have to try to find out who did the killing. We also have a trying to pay himage to Marquez without going full magic realism in a way lots of talk about having a tiger in a man but no men becoming tigers here bu the lines nearly get blurred at times. I do wonder about the chhoice of Sadat as a name is that a wider comment on his homeland it wasn’t til 2004 when this book was published the country had its first free presidential election.Well will it make the actual shortlist I think so our I am not sure it is close this year I think you will have to wait to tomorrow and the Shadow shortlist is announced. I have now reviewed all this years longlist.


June 2023


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