It is nice that, after half a century, Pramoedya Ananta Toer has found a successor. The young Sundanese Eka Kurniawan has published two astonishing novels in the past half-decade. If one considers their often nightmarish plots and characters, one could say there is no hope. But the sheer beauty and elegance of their language, and the exuberance of their imagining, give one the exhilaration of watching the first snowdrops poke their little heads up towards a wintry sky.
Eka, a great admirer of Pramoedya, wrote a first-class academic thesis, since published, on the older writer’s complex relationship with ‘socialist realism’. The two novels are Cantik Itu Luka [‘Beautiful’, a Wound] (2002) and Lelaki Harimau [Man Tiger] (2004). The first is a huge, rather unwieldy, surreal recapitulation of the past century of Indonesian history set in a sort of isolated Macondo somewhere on the south coast of Java. The second is a brilliant, tight-knit and frightening village tragedy, also set somewhere on that barren littoral.