Nominated for the Man Booker International, Eka Kurniawan brings his short stories into English for the first time
Eka Kurniawan’s freewheeling imagination explores the turbulent dreams of an ex-prostitute, the hapless life of a perpetual student, victims of an anticommunist genocide, the travails of an elephant, even the vengeful fantasies of a stone. Dark, sexual, scatological, violent, and mordantly funny, these fractured fables span city and country, animal and human, myth and politics.
Like nothing else, Kurniawan’s stories bury themselves in the mind. His characters and insights are at once hauntingly familiar, peculiar, and twisted.
Kurniawan's deadpan, incisive collection (after the novel Beauty Is a Wound) pares out the gruesome consequences of acting on misconceptions. In "Making an Elephant Happy," childhood innocence becomes deadly, while in "Peter Pan," a revolutionary rejects his privilege to become a martyr. "Caronang" offers a new twist on the timeless tale of man's misguided impulse to tame a wild beast in this case, a canine creature with opposable thumbs that is native to Indonesia, stands bolt upright, and is cute as a "living doll" until it learns to shoot a gun. Each sardonic entry is made more alluring by the reliance on a mythic plot device an amulet made of otter, a stone with a narrative point of view. The accumulation of bathroom scrawls in "Graffiti in the Toilet," each more blindly ecstatic than the last, encapsulates Kurniawan's interest in how the human drive to make one's mark often paves over good intentions. Erupting with awareness and dark wit, this work puts Kurniawan in league with Hassan Blasim, Witold Gombrowicz, and Daniil Kharms. (Oct.)