April 2021 Translated Literature Book Club Meeting
April has been such a hectic month that before the last Saturday of the month approached, three of us were already wondering if we would be able to finish reading Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan’s 470-page Beauty is a Wound in time for book club. Two of us eventually couldn’t finish reading (it’s alright, book clubs shouldn’t make us feel that stressful! :D), and thankfully the other two ladies did and we could still hold a decent discussion over chilled sea salt chocolate drinks and berry ricotta hotcake at Curious Palette! 🙂
Translated by Annie Tucker, Beauty is a Wound was originally published in Indonesian in 2002. It is set before WWII through most of the rest of the twentieth century, focusing on the rise and fall of Dewi Ayu’s family. What’s interesting is that Kurniawan has insisted, in interviews, that Beauty is a Wound is not a historical novel founded on Indonesia’s history, even though readers are able to identify obvious parallels between Dewi Ayu’s family history and Indonesia’s history.
As we dived into the discussion, there’s no denying how sick, horrific, even farcical, the novel is—with aplenty scenes of rape, bestiality, incest, zoophilia. These scenes beg the question if they have been overdone; were they even necessary? Looking at the story as a whole, from start to end, we also wonder if these sexually violent scenes and political undertones reflect the impact of Dutch colonialism on generations and generations of Indonesians?
On the other hand, there’s also no denying the appeal in Kurniawan’s writing: setting the hook in the very first sentence of the novel, cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, incorporating scores of memorable and fascinating characters, opening a window for English-speaking readers into Indonesia’s culture and history.
Here are some of the questions we discussed:
What are some of your favourite characters?
Do you see any parallel between Dewi Ayu’s family history and Indonesia’s history?
Why do you think the author integrated a significant number of sexually violent scenes in the novel?
How is Dewi Ayu’s character fascinating?
What do you like most about the novel?