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Words Without Borders is an inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winner!

2016 Man Booker International Q&A: Eka Kurniawan

By Eric M. B. Becker

Eka Kurniawan and his translator Labodalih Sembiring were longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for Man Tiger. Eka was born in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia in 1975, and he studied philosophy at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. His novels, including Man Tiger and Beauty is a Wound (2015) have been translated into Japanese, Malay, French, Italian, Dutch, German, and Korean.

Words Without Borders (WWB): Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?​

Eka Kurniawan (EK): When I was a kid, I just loved reading. I grew up in a small town, with no bookstore, so it was easy to run out of books to read. I read whatever came to my hand: romance, martial arts novels, and horror stories. When there was nothing to read, I started to write my own stories. And once I could write stories, I did it to make my school friends impressed. It was a few years later, when I was twenty, that I seriously decided to become a writer.

WWB: How do you see your writing within the larger context of your country's/language's literary tradition? What influences/writers/groups of writers there do you draw on, or what literary currents does your work disavow?​

EK: I always see my works as a mix of Indonesian popular novels that I read when I was teenager and world classic literature that I read when I was too lazy to attend my class in university. My Indonesian heroes have always been Pramoedya Ananta Toer, our great master novelist; Asmaraman S. Kho Ping Hoo, a martial arts novelist who was very popular in 70s-80s; and Abdullah Harahap, a horror stories writer who was popular in the same era. Nowadays, while I still enjoy their works, I reread some works (sometime the obscure ones) of great writers like Dostoyevsky or Leskov.

WWB: What's your favorite book from a literary tradition other than your own and how has it influenced your writing?​

EK: It would be Hunger by Norwegian Knut Hamsun. I decided to be a writer after I read that novel.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: An excerpt from Eka Kurniawan's novel "Beauty is a Wound" (WWB's Dispatches blog, 2015)

Read WWB's MBIP Interview with Eka Kurniawan's translator Labodalih Sembiring

More interviews with 2016 Man Booker International Prize-nominated writers and translators


Published Apr 12, 2016   Copyright 2016 Eric M. B. Becker

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