This scathingly satirical and hilarious novel, first published in Indonesia in 1991, affords both a blithely irreverent overview of Indonesian history in the Sukarno and Suharto eras and brilliant insights into the postcolonial condition.
The story begins in the 1930s, before Indonesia’s independence from Dutch rule, and follows the fortunes of a poor Javanese village woman who becomes a servant in the household of President Sukarno. In a world where speaking truth to power really has no point, she learns the arts of accommodation and does very well for herself. The price she pays is the loss of her identity, her connection to her kin and origins, and her moral standing. Framed by the world of ritual shadow plays — the realm of witches like Durga and the goddess Umayi — Mangunwijaya’s novel gives an unblinking but remarkably compassionate account of people caught up in the great nationalist maelstrom of Indonesia’s recent history.
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