Menagerie 4

Menagerie 4.jpg
Title
Menagerie 4
Original language
English
Author(s)
Illustrator(s)
    Publisher
    Lontar Foundation
    ISBN
    979-8083-37-7
    Publication date
    2000
    Subjects
    • rituals
    • customs
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    Ganesha Bookshops www.ganeshabooksbali.com
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                    Description(s)

                    This volume of Menagerie, the fourth in the series, is a collection of fiction, non-fiction, poems, short stories, literary essays, posters and photographs by Balinese and Indonesian authors. What the “natives” feel about Bali and its culture is very seldom expressed to the outside world. This diverse literary miscellany presents a rare insiders’ view of the so-called Island of the Gods. Menagerie 4 does not make light reading. Common themes are the heavy changes taking place in Bali today, the impact of economic development and the loss of the island’s innocence, inducing a feeling of foreboding and disquiet in the reader. But it is in the reading of contemporary works like these that one can begin to understand the critical juncture that Bali has reached in so far as its culture and environment are concerned. As it is in Balinese literature in general, caste conflict is the single most dominant theme in the pieces found in Menagerie 4. There’s seems to be a collective awareness among most Balinese writers that the island’s Hinduized caste system that forbids the intermarriage of different castes and regulates social proprieties of the upper classes is unfair and out of place in the modern-day world. Head and Feet, for example, is a story about the story of the son of raja who resents his newfound responsibilities and duties, illustrating the incongruity of customs and rituals and how complex the issues of tradition have become in today’s Bali. The book’s all-inclusive essays, short stories and poems range in subject matter from the decaying condition of old age, the tug of war between the generations, a Western-educated Indonesian youth’s conflict with tradition-bound family, the conflict between old and new, the anguish of elopements and forced marriages, the workaday lives of ordinary people, frustrated dancers, strained friendships, unhappy marriages, attitudes towards extramarital sex, the low status of women in the family hierarchy, and even a supernatural thriller of terrified people reporting their death before it occurs. The Introduction traces the history of modern Balinese and Indonesian literature, which began in the early 20th century. The contributors listed in the back, with short biographies, are a roll call of prominent Balinese writers and poets: Putu Arya Tirtawirya, Gde Aryantha Soethama, Putu Oka Sukanta, Oka Rusmini, Gde Winnyana and Putu Wijaya. Another chapter is devoted to the development of modern Indonesian poetry in Bali. Poems include the eloquent haiku quality of “Sweeper of the Temple Yard” by Nyoman Tusthi Eddy and the clever and evocative images conjured up in “The Badung River” by Warih Wisatsana. The Fall of Deity describes the turning point in the life of a Brahmin priest who refuses to marry a couple of different castes. The Wrong Kind of Death is a taut and gripping story about the suicide of an old man whose only wish is to leave his family a decent inheritance. The sad story of Luh Galuh is an allegory of an old rice husker and ex-Arja dancer, struggling vainly to maintain her relevance and position in the family. Death Star is a strange, harrowing tale about a fanatic PKI cadre fleeing to Bali during the government’s merciless purge of communists in 1965. Full of apocalyptic visions against a backdrop of chaos with Bali overrun with “troops of the red berets,” at first you think the writer is sympathetic to the “hero” but quite the opposite is true. Another dark story with an eerie and surprising ending is Putu Gives God a Hand about a high-caste woman’s abrupt loss of stature after marrying a commoner. Reproduced black & white posters lend a powerful visual component to the book. Taring Padi People’s Culture Institute’s stark Socialist-themed artwork has the appearance of woodblock prints but with strong social political and activist messages: “Weapons Don’t Solve Problems,” “Inter-faith Harmony,” “Down With Capitalism and Militarism,” and “Love For One And All.” An 11-page black & white photo essay depict the noisy carnival-like political campaigns – parades, colorful banners, boisterous crowds, graffiti slogans – leading up the June 1999 elections after the fall of Suharto when more than 100 political parties competed for public office. One of the best stories in the collection is Typical which illustrates the tension that can develop between two friends – a foreign man and a Balinese man – who meet in Jakarta before the foreigner returns to his own country, summing up the laughable and sometimes serious misunderstandings that can occur between two profoundly dissimilar cultures. In Dancer, a janger performer, relegated to selling sweet potato snacks on the street, longs to return to the stage against her husband’s wishes. Moon Over Legian is a frenetic and highly charged love story between a Balinese and a married woman who are in a difficult yet addictive relationship. Death of a Journalist, the most hard-hitting non-fiction piece, chronicles the vicious beating death in 1996 of Faud Muhammad Syafruddin by hired killers in Yogyakarta during the journalist’s investigation of a corrupt politician. The Darkening Sky is a farcical sarcastic tongue-in-cheek parable about the prophet Mohammed and the angel Gabriel returning to earth. The divine narrators compare Jakarta with Sodom and Gomorrah and ridicule the stupidity of human beings and Sukarno’s erratic leadership during the twilight of the Konfrontasi era. The story Indonesia illuminates the deep chasm between Indonesian and Western notions of what defines Indonesian culture as it is played out in a woman’s dance presentation at Cornell University’s International Cultural Night. The story ends with Nana bitterly resigning herself to the pressures of Western stereotypes and preconceptions. Bilingual collections about Bali are rare, especially ones such as this which offer such a wide variety of genres of remarkably different tastes and textures from the supernatural to the trivial, from the sympathetic to the vengeful, all held together by the overriding themes of spiritual, social and personal crises. This book is a literary smorgasbord that appeals to every palate.

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