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Man Tiger: A Novel Paperback – September 15, 2015
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“Against the killings of those years and the collective amnesia used to blank out the fate of [Indonesia’s] victims—a kind of second death, as it were—Kurniawan’s fiction summons its legions of ghosts. Against the strongmen who presided over violence and abuse, it raises the dead Dewi Ayu and brings to life a magic tigress hungry for justice.”
—Siddhartha Deb, New Republic
“Tight, focused and thrilling. Like a good crime novel, Man Tiger works best when read in a single sitting, and its propulsive suspense is all the more remarkable because Kurniawan reveals both victim and murderer in the first sentence.”
—Jon Fasman, New York Times Book Review
“Can’t-Miss New Read”
—Huffington Post 2015 Fall Books Preview
“Without a doubt the most original, imaginatively profound, and elegant writer of fiction in Indonesia today: its brightest and most unexpected meteorite.”
—Benedict Anderson, author of Imagined Communities
“In terms of the literary novel, the year’s most stirring revelation is Eka Kurniawan … Imagine if Gogol adapted the films of Weerasethakul into novels.”
—Jonthan Sturgeon, Flavorwire
“[Man Tiger is] signature Kurniawan in its serious playfulness. It alternates flash and inner quiet. We feel everything from the tenderness of family meals to the roughness of a torn jugular.”
“The world Kurniawan invents is familiar and unexpected, incorporating mystery, magical realism, and folklore … Biting and beautiful … This wild and enthralling novel manages to entertain while offering readers insight into the traditions of a little-known South East Asian culture. Kurniawan has officially put the West on notice.
“Man Tiger is a novel of mystery, suspense, and magical realism … Kurniawan has already been compared to writers like Gabriel García Márquez, so he’s for sure one to put on your list.”
—Susie Rodarme, Book Riot
“[It’s] telling that many have deemed Kurniawan the next Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an acclaimed pioneer of socialist realism.”
—Gillian Terzis, The New Yorker
“A slim, wry story … at once elegant and bawdy, experimental, and political.”
—Allison Noelle Conner, The Offing (from The LA Review of Books)
“A supernatural tale of murder and desire fascinatingly subverts the crime genre … Kurniawan’s writing demonstrates an affinity with literary heavyweights such as, yes, García Márquez and Dostoevsky.”
“What good fortune that English-speaking readers may now find ourselves enchanted, confronted, and perhaps transformed by Kurniawan’s work.”
“[Man Tiger’s] explosive prose and provocative employment of fantastical elements will startle any reader.”
—Claire Fallon, Huffington Post
“[Kurniawan] seems destined to join the ranks of our great storytellers like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.”
About the Author
Eka Kurniawan was born in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia in 1975. He studied philosophy at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. He has published several novels, including Beauty Is a Wound and Man Tiger, as well as short stories. His novels have been published in a number of languages, including English.
Labodalih Sembiring is a freelance features reporter for English-language publications, a writer of fiction in English and Indonesian, an amateur photographer, and a landscape designer.
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Why do I make this belabored point? Because Kurniawan writes not in the formal and correct language which one would find in an Indonesian grammar book, but in the colloquial vernacular Bahasa Indonesia people use in daily life and would use to tell traditional folk tales. And actually, many villagers would be speaking the indigenous language of the mountains of Java Barat, Basa Sunda, or some other local dialect.
So, while this is certainly a commendable translation, English-only readers are missing some of the original tone and the circular nature of the text may seem abnormally repetitious. How do I know that? Well, my Bahasa Indonesia is certainly not fluent, but it is good enough to know that you never get a word for word translation and you can never endow English with some of the overtly Indonesian connotation that is going on in the original text. And I read both versions at the same time, consulting the original Indonesian text when the English words seemed “too English” to me. And I have been to those mountains.
Remember those scary folk tales and ghost stories told around the campfire about the ax murderer who stalks the very woods you sit in? Or the classic Yellow Ribbon Around Her Neck tale? Man Tiger is episodic ghost storytelling. That is why Man Tiger’s story starts over repeatedly retelling the story from the view of someone else. Just as the story-telling granny mentioned in the book always had a tale to tell, the book sections are new sessions of the same tale, which eventually reaches the climax. This is why there is little dialog and why we don’t see too much of that tiger. Like the Yellow Ribbon story—the head only falls off once! The tiger comes out mid-book and readers are left to piece together the more important element, the REASON the tiger came out.
Kurniawan is of course commenting on lots of the peculiar elements of life in the mountain villages outside the major cities of Java. But you do not need to be familiar with Indonesia to read this book. Beauty is a Wound, Kurniawan’s other recently translated and utterly allegorical fantastical book is perhaps best left for those with a firm handle on Indonesian history. Man Tiger is completely understandable and accessible, similar to a fairy tale set in a far off kingdom in a vaguely contemporary time.
For anyone familiar with (or like me, obsessed with) West Java, but living in the English-speaking world, Man Tiger is a quick, nearly humorous read. And you are probably just glad the book made it “Out of Indonesia.” For so little Indonesian fiction actually makes it to the English market that Man Tiger is important for that reason alone. And you, West Java Junkies, have most likely already read both versions and are reading this review only to see how I could possibly have this much to say about so short of a book!
If you are not familiar with Indonesia at all, bear in mind that this is a place where many people do not see things in the clear black and white, good or bad, real or unreal, way the western culture trains one to think. Ghosts, wahyu--Divine revelation of Power, ilmu hitam--black magic, ilmu puti--white magic, prostitution, animism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, all coexist in a steaming stew with a tight lid of very modern scientific, economic, medical and technical knowledge.
Don’t be fooled by Kurniawan’s sparse tale into believing these people are in any way unsophisticated villagers. The Indonesian people are quite well educated, millions to the university level. And it’s not the fully agrarian country most people think it is. It is tropical—you don’t need a brick house to survive the winter, but it is not unindustrialized and is fairly urban. The shopping malls are bigger and better stocked than the malls in my area of Pennsylvania. And I never saw so many late model cars in my life! But village life is more ritualistic. More communal but certainly incredibly complex. There are formal and informal, and even animal levels, in the languages. There are multiple words for Love. Everyone has had a seriously broken heart. All the pop and dangdut songs are about separated lovers. Or Death. Or revenge, or betrayal.
And Blame is not apportioned in the same scientific manner as it is in America. A famous Indonesian writer, Y.B. Mangunwijaya, once said something to the effect that the people of Java are like the volcanoes they live upon, at any moment they can awaken to cough up a chunk of burning lava. And there lies the central concept of this book. It is clear from the first phrase, that Margio killed Anwat Sadat (not THE Anwar Sadat, just some guy named Anwar Sadat) in a volcanic eruption of murderous rage but it takes the entire book to apportion the blame for the killing.
It is also clear that everyone agrees a tiger erupts from him and does the killing! But why?? WHY? What makes that seemingly docile tiger tear out someone’s throat? What is every Indonesian really looking for? What really makes their world go round? What keeps me obsessed with West Java? It is not money.
That brings us to the other Indonesian element of this ghost tale. The Entire Book is a Vehicle for the Moral Lesson at the End. Something simmers inside the heart of West Java. Sesuata mendidih di dalam jantung hati Jawa Barat. You will have to read Man Tiger to find out what offense Triggered the Tiger.
Most recent customer reviews
There’s not a whole lot I like about Man Tiger. When you get right down to it, the only element I find intriguing is the structure.Read more
This is one of those books that likely don't translate easily.Read more