Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: Maya by Ayu Utami

Title: Maya
Author: Ayu Utami
Length: 232 pages
ISBN# 978-979-91-0626-1
Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia 2013

Maya is the third book of the Bilangan Fu series by Ayu Utami. This book is also linked to the Saman dwilogy that were published in early 2000s. During the read of this book, I tried to answer the question on whether we should read the previous books or it can be read as a standalone or without chronological order. Apparently it is the second and third option, but I felt the need to refresh my memory on the previous books’ plot as I began reading it. Later I found out that its position is as the transition between the Saman dwilogy to the Bilangan Fu series. But anyway, worry not, the beginning of this book would tell you the gist of what happened earlier.

This book is divided to three sections: Kini (present), Dulu (past), and Kelak (future). Kini was opened in a melancholic mood of Yasmin Moningka. In 1998, when The Reformation Era was just about to begin in Indonesia, she received three mails from Saman. Saman is a former priest who abandoned his faith after he got involved in some social resistance movements in South Sumatera. Saman was among the activists that were considered missing in the last years of The New Order Era. His story can be read in the first book of the Saman dwilogy, of which title uses his own name. The three mails Yasmin received contained three letters in Javanese and one gemstone which apparently shows the image of two Semars.

Yasmin met Maya, a midget albino dancer from the Saduki Clan that performed Ramayana shadow dance after hew meeting with Suhubudi. Suhubudi is a mysticism expert with whom Yasmin consulted about the three letters and gemstone she received from Saman. Some parts of this book portrays Maya’s view of the world as a midget albino. While the Ramayana shadow dance liberated her from her (apparently) hideous figure to the servant of beauty, the introduction of the world outside the Suhubudi compound brought her a shocking change of her paradigm. It was like how Adam and Eve was shocked by the exposure of knowledge after they tasted The Forbidden Fruit. This shows how different individuals would perceive the taste of new knowledge differently. Some will reach with enthusiasm and excitement, longing to know more. Some others will react with shock and terror. There are also some others who react with doubt or apathy. In Maya’s case, she was terrified. She was terrified by people’s unsympathetic reaction to her unusual figure. She was terrified to find that Ramayana is not originally from Java, that the purification of Sita was considered taboo among the Javanese in the ancient time. Furthermore, she was terrified that Semar, whom she idolizes, was not celebrated in the outside world as how the Saduki Clan and her celebrate him.

Dulu features more about Saman, Parang Jati, and their relationship. It was when the AMD (ABRI Masuk Desa - ABRI in the village) program was implemented and the farmers were required to plant the IRRI rice seeds to support the Swasembada Pangan (food self-sufficiency) program. We were shown the dark side of those development programs that a lot of ahistorical Indonesians long to return today, as well as the mysticism behind The New Order’s legitimacy. I am not sure whether the mysticism behind The New Order part is true though. It also presents some moments between Saman and Yasmin, and a bit about Larung Lanang, the character that becomes the title of the Saman dwilogy’s sequel.

Kelak emphasized how Maya was conflicted and terrified after the exposure of knowledge happened in Kini. Meanwhile, the Reformation movement started to emerge. Parang Jati decided to take a part in the student’s movement to end Soeharto’s regime, despite that he is still on duty to guard Yasmin and her daughter from something that is after the gemstone Yasmin carried. It was the first time Parang Jati acted without Suhubudi’s approval. Unfortunately, that was also the first time an incident happened under his responsibility. What will happened to Yasmin and her daughter? Why is the gemstone targeted? How will Maya overcome her internal conflict after she tasted The Forbidden Fruit? And most importantly, how is Saman doing now? Did he survive as a missing person?

Compared to Ayu’s other books, Maya is remarkably rich in melancholy. There are Yasmin’s search of Saman’s trace, Maya’s struggle to overcome her physical limitations and deal with the shocking exposure of knowledge, Saman’s spiritual struggle, and Parang Jati’s guilt. Meanwhile, as how her other books are, this book is also rich with historical reference and Ayu’s interpretation to those references. In this case, she interpreted Ramayana and the role of Semar as the Saduki Clan’s patron.

I always like the mystic atmosphere Ayu created in her texts. Sometimes it would cause your heart to beat faster and tremble. Sometimes it would grasp your heart, crush your feeling. The part when Bandowo lost his right hand broke my heart and made me want to stop reading for a few minutes to dive in the sadness. There are also some new-to-me facts presented, including how the Javanese used towritelikethis in the past. It reminds me of an old friend that likes to write in that manner on blogs and social media. Could it be related to that fact?

At the end of this book, Ayu provided some credits on the source materials she used during the research for this book. As usual, the book made me want to explore the ancient epochs from India that were adapted to create the Javanese feel. I would recommend this book to the historical fiction enthusiasts, especially if you have read the Saman dwilogy. Anyway, it is interesting that I finally this book with a bit about the myth of the Semar gemstone just when the gemstone fever is happening in Indonesia!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment