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

August 2015

Myth and History: Writing from Indonesia

Image: Heri Dono, "Shooting Nose,” 2014 83x138 cm, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

This month we present writing from Indonesia, where history and myth inform a rich narrative tradition. For many of the authors here, writing is both vehicle and subject, and their work represents and addresses the art and act of storytelling. Though the writing often turns toward the fantastical, at no time do the mythic elements here overshadow the stark realities and social struggles that permeate these stories: questions of women’s rights, fanaticism and provinciality, respect for nature and its creatures. Hasif Amini interrogates the origin of poetic invention, Taukik Ikram Jamil writes to and of a lover, and Clara Ng's retired teacher agonizes over the daily fairy tale essential to his survival. Mona Sylviana's cad turns a confession into entertainment. M. Iksaka Banu finds a journalist embedded with Dutch colonial invaders witnessing a tragic episode from the bloody Balinese past. In two tales of revenge, Abidah El Khalieqy's defiant prostitute shows up her client and tormentor, and Zen Hae's sly crow turns avenger. Acep Zamzam Noor mourns disaster and indicts the government response. We thank our guest editor, John McGlynn of the Lontar Foundation, who has done more than anyone to bring Indonesian literature to English-language readers. In our special feature, Tenzin Dickie translates and introduces stories by Pema Bhum, Pema Tseden, and Kyabchen Dedrol.

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Book Reviews

Anne Garréta’s “Sphinx”

Reviewed by Jane Yong Kim

Centering her tale on the love and lust of a young couple in the Parisian underworld allows Garréta to train our eyes on the physical beauty of youth, the sensuality of anonymous bodies, and our preconceptions regarding both. The bodies of je and A***, left bare of gender markers, create the need for a new, more vigilant kind of reading that involves a constant undoing of assumptions.

Naja Marie Aidt’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors”

Reviewed by Tony Malone

Most readers of Baboon will have appreciated the way Aidt composed a series of spiky, cutting scenes, full of damaged yet compelling characters, and in Rock, Paper, Scissors the writer expands these vignettes into an extended car crash of a novel.

Yoss’s “A Planet for Rent”

Reviewed by Rosie Clarke

A Planet for Rent is Yoss’s thinly veiled, scathing critique of 1990s Cuba, using the genre of science fiction to elude censure... Satirizing our fear of subjugation and the other, Yoss’s implementation of aliens very literally confronts contemporary anxieties about immigration and diaspora.

Sergio Pitol’s “The Journey”

Reviewed by Anne Posten

In order to enjoy The Journey, the second volume of revered Mexican author Sergio Pitol’s idiosyncratic autobiographical trilogy, the reader must abandon expectations: of genre, of structure, of distinctions between the aesthetic “truth” of dreams and fiction, and truth in the sense of literal accuracy.

Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s “Mirages of the Mind”

Reviewed by Saudamini Deo

Written in 1990, Yousufi’s Mirages of the Mind describes with acuity the changed ambience of India after the Partition, We, twenty-five years later, know that Yousufi’s understanding of the Indian situation was nothing but prescient.

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