Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: Dari Parangakik ke Kampuchea by Nh. Dini

Title: Dari Parangakik ke Kampuchea
Author: Nh. Dini
Length: 423 pages
ISBN# 979-22-0303-6
Gramedia Pustaka Utama 2005

Dari Parangakik ke Kampuchea is a memoir of a French consular’s wife that took place after Jepun Negerinya Hiroko’s time frame. It is opened by an “abstract” that tells the gist of the whole book. The narration style is slightly more poetic and emotional than the two previous memoirs, despite that Dini admitted that she spent her early days in this memoir’s period in apathetic mood. Under Yves’ presence, Dini mostly let the days passed by all of its imperfections without trying to make them better. The gradual change in her relationship with her husband is shown in how she gradually refers her husband as “my husband”, “Lintang’s father”, even “the husband” and “Mr. Consular” more than using his name, compared to the previous two memoirs. The poetic mood may be due to the presence of a captain that will have a significant role in Dini’s life for the next three memoirs.

After a touristy trip to Greece, Italy and Rome, Dini and her husband stayed in an apartment in Versailles until Yves got appointed as the French consulate in Cambodia (formerly known as Kampuchea, hence this memoir’s title). The great deal on the cheap apartment turned out to be a small, humid “apartment” that used to be a storeroom. The worse thing was that they had to endure the coldest winter in the past 40 years in such inconvenient apartment. Dini had to struggle with the modest living and stingy husband for almost a year, in contrast to her convenient lifestyle in Japan. Thankfully, there was her beautiful daughter, Lintang, and a visit of her old friends, Francis and Anis, that helped her survive the tough time in France. When Yves finally got a job in Cambodia, Dini and Lintang was scheduled to travel by ship while the husband arrived early to settle their living arrangement in Cambodia. As usual, Dini’s sociability got her acquainted with a few passengers in the ship, including the captain that would put butterflies in her stomach. Her life in Cambodia was not just all about dealing with her difficult husband. Besides getting busy with all the consular’s household chores, she spent her days taking care of her daughter, contributing in Women’s International Club, and spent some time with the captain.

Like the previous memoir, the book contains tons of descriptions of the places Dini stayed in. There were also a bit more explanations on the historical background of those places, but mostly not on the events that were going on. An exception would be on what was going on in Cambodia under Norodom Sihanouk’s leadership in the 1960s, when Cambodia went through an impressive development progress after the World War II. Many reviewers on Goodreads praised her vibrant descriptions of the places and food Dini experienced in this memoir’s time frame. Her description on her living arrangement in Cambodia reminds me of an American consular’s place where my former employer once held an event. That brought such happy memory of my own experience, which is nice.

On the technical side, this book is noticeably thicker and text-heavier compared to the previous two memoirs. The font is also noticeably smaller to pack more words in a page. One thing that bugged me besides Yves’ hellish behavior is that Dini often uses the expression “...X, dengan siapa aku...” and “...Z, siapa yang...” like the direct, Google Translate-ish translation of “...X, with whom I...” and “...Z, who was...”. If I am not familiar with English grammar and structure, I would be confused with the text, as Bahasa Indonesia noes not normally work that way.

After reading three memoirs of Nh. Dini from the beginning of her adulthood as a stewardess, I have been thinking a lot of her and her family. I thought about how an impressive, well-disciplined working woman like her had to suffer under an unexpectedly unhappy marriage. Her husband once saw her as an intelligent lady, but as they embarked on marriage life, he started to limit her intellectual activities such as reading and writing. He even limited her writing because he perceived it as a non-productive activity that could not be monetized. And when Dini started to paint, he cynically whine on how art supplies are so expensive while her new hobby was seen as yet another non-productive one. As a reader; blogger; and crafter, I personally felt so sad for her and angry to her husband. While many readers judged her negatively because of her not being faithful in this memoir and the next three memoirs, I sympathize her pain and longing for a genuine relationship that respects and appreciates each other. It is very unfortunate for her, though thankfully she still managed to sneak her writing time out of Yves’ notice. Thanks to that, now that her books have been published and able to be read by many. In addition, she may also be enjoying the health benefits of those intellectual activities, despite that she still has to struggle with her vertigo nowadays.

I also thought a lot about her relationship with her children in the present. How is their relationship nowadays? How is Lintang doing at the moment? That may will be answered in her latest memoirs, which I have not read yet. Maybe not. She must be proud of her son, but is she actually? How she has to struggle with her financial condition, while her son must be enjoying his fruits of labor? I also found out how her son was born when I read the synopsis of the next memoir that took place after this one, Dari Fontenay ke Magallianes. I will not spoil on that to you as much as I was spoiled by many reviewers of her next memoirs (!!!), but I found that deeply saddening.

I had quite a hard time to finish reading this book, but that is just because a few parts of it felt emotional for me. Overall, I would recommend this book, especially to people who are about to read her next three memoirs: Dari Fontenay Ke Magallianes, La Grande Borne, and Argenteuil. This book will explain a lot of things you may will question in those three memoirs, especially those moral questions concerning her marriage and faithfulness to her husband. I do not have the next memoir yet and it is currently hard to find as I am writing this, but I have a few more memoirs of hers that are not in chronological order. However, as you may have already implied, I am having a kind of hangover after reading three of her memoirs consecutively.  I plan to take a break from reading her books for a while, and continue with reading another Indonesian literary author’s work after this. 

This review is an entry for 100 Hari Membaca Sastra Indonesia by lustandcoffee.

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