Book Review: White Serpent Castle by Lensey Namioka


Rating: 5/5

I got this book from a garbage dump kind of sale in a mall for less than half a dollar. Judging from the cover, the price, and where I have found it I made no serious fuss about this book. I don’t even know why I picked it in the first place! Never mind that because the book exceeded every expectation and turned out to be an exciting journey.

To be clear from the very first: this book is no literary masterpiece. Rather, this is a YA book. YA books don’t have to be bad. Some of them can indeed be good! (think of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket); compared to that series however, this book is lacking of illustration of any sort.

The premise bears striking resemblance to Sherlock Holmes stories. Only this book features Zenta and Matsuzo instead of Sherlock and Watson. There are other books available in the series (called ‘A Zenta and Matsuzo Mystery’ series) which are hard to find. In this story, Zenta, a masterless ronin, with his companion and protege, Matsuzo, made a journey to the White Serpent Castle to look for a job. Inside the castle they are confronted with dozens of hostile samurais and they find out that the Lord of the Castle is dead and the situation is in chaos. And there is another thing: the castle is haunted by the White Serpent Ghost—a monstrous white creature said to emerge whenever a crisis threaten the castle. On top of that there are also sword fights, murder, and swarms of mini twists.

You might like this book if you take this book easily. No need to be over-analytic about this. A pleasant entertainment is all. The setting is great: the whole thing happened in a majestic Japanese castle, and because of the nature of the story, I can imagine they make this into a decent movie with proper martial arts choreography and luxurious background settings… because if there is anything lacking from this book, it would be the poor verb usage on fighting scenes. Not bad for a trash sale.


Book Review: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham


Rating: 3/5

  • The Midwich Cuckoos is a 1950 sci-fi novel with an interesting premise:
    In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone wakens unharmed—except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.
  • The novel is a study of human behaviour when confronted to an extraterrestrial force that is superior in every conceivable way
  • That being said, the story will revolve around more on the human side than the Alien’s side
  • Although there are many novel ideas presented in the book that are much more advanced than its time, the story still feels inevitably old and torpid
  • Probably because it is British in style and kind of remind you to Dickens
  • It is also more humorous than serious. British kind of humour
  • Which makes it feels like a dated version of Mars Attack
  • Based on the premise the story can go deliciously surreal, only it isn’t. We are dealing with realist here
  • Although the whole story seems only like the tip of an iceberg, it is cut short by an inadequate ending
  • The novel is adapted into a movie Village of the Damned (I have not watched it)
  • Notable quote: 
    'I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was every perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilization. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate process of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by "Mother Nature". Each species must strive to survive, and that it will do, by every means in its power, however foul — unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.' 
 The Cuckoos with crazy eyes...

The Cuckoos with crazy eyes...

Book Review: Lost by Hans-Ulrich Treichel


Rating: 3/5

Lost is a tragedy novel. It tells a story about a family suffering from the loss of their firstborn son, Arnold, due to the World War II. The tragic fact veers to entirely comic when the family was told that their son might be still alive after all—with a twist. Before seeing him they must endure endless ridiculous and horrific tests to find proof that he is truly part of the family.

Told in the first person narrative of the lost son’s little brother we are forced to acknowledge his immature and tender feelings regarding the whole situations. Viewed in this light, the matter almost feels very trivial, since the little brother doesn’t know (or care) anything about Arnold because he was born much later after the incident. All he cared about is, if the lost boy is indeed Arnold, would he have to share his bed, his food, his toys? It is of course the complete opposite from the extreme anguish that his parents have to endure every day.

Interestingly, the book contains no paragraph or space break—every page is literally filled with sentences. Back to back. It doesn’t allow the reader to glance away or take toilet break. Obviously it is meant to be read in a single sitting.

I have to say that 80% of things that happened in the book are just completely ridiculous (although possible). Depending on the imagination of the readers the whole fiasco can look like complete comedy. Also, although written in the setting of post-war Germany, this book makes no mention of NAZI or any of its impact on the world around its characters. This book solely intends to narrate the sufferings endured by ordinary Germans because of the war. In my opinion, the writer wrote the tragedy as comic because the tragedy of losing a child (who ended up still alive after all) pales in comparison to the Auschwitz tragedy. In this book a German tried to “joke” about the nation’s predicament, although in effect the joke might have earned some sympathy from the readers, because in the end not everyone in Germany is NAZI and a tragedy no matter how comic is still a tragedy.

A Review: Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata


My first encounter with this book took place 6 years ago. I have read it 4 times more since then. I rated it 3 out of 5 last time, but this time I would rate it 5 out of 5. I blamed it on my literary incompetencies that I did not appreciate this book sooner; I was very young and immature and my literary journey was just starting out back then.

The thing that surprised me is the number of times I have read this book. Admittedly I rarely read a book more than once (much to my shame as a literature fan). Even my most and most favourite books like The Correction by Jonathan Franzen and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami I have read only once. What made me read this thing so many times? I asked myself. Let me try to explain that by explaining you the nature of this book.

Snow Country is a work of intense observation and characterisation about two individuals in a resort mountain town near the city of Niigata. The expression “Snow Country” specifically means the area in the western part of the Japanese island, behind the mountain range, where the snow is the heaviest. Both the place and the characters are central in this story. Shimamura, the main protagonist, is a dilettante who bears a deep interest in occidental ballet. This interest however is not a genuine one for he had never seen a real occidental ballet before, but he learned it from a “distance” such as from books and photographs. The pleasure in this hobby comes from his inability to see it with his own eyes:

    “He prefers not to savour the ballet in the flesh; rather he savoured the phantasms of his own dancing imagination, called up by Western books and pictures. It was like being in love with someone he had never seen.”

    Shimamura spends most of his time apart from his family visiting a hot spring resort in the mountain to meet a young geisha, Komako, whom he thinks is the epitome of wasted beauty. A beautiful woman, Komako works from a very young age as a geisha, accompanying men drinking and singing until very late at night. Later he finds out that she does this in order to pay the medication for a man she is supposed to marry. The man is sick and about to die but Komako says that she has no love for the man. At one point in the novel, between Shimamura and Komako, comes a beautiful young maid, Yoko, whose beautiful voice and mysterious demeanour continue to haunt Shimamura. Shimamura can’t get Yoko out of the picture for she has a place in his pre-designed fantasy, which he has created previously when he saw her in the train through the reflection of the train window. 

    So it is pretty complex, you see. But this book is not a plot-driven novel so one will not be awarded with conclusion in the end. This is the kind of book that demands patience, deep thinking, and more patience. Nature descriptions will come to play often in this book. Kawabata writes nature metaphors for everything. The descriptions are no less than meditative and they evoke beautiful imaginary:

    “It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night colour. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable one from another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and somber enough to communicate their mass. The whole of the night scene came together in a clear, tranquil harmony.”

 Hiroshige — Snow Falling on a Town 

Hiroshige — Snow Falling on a Town 

    There are similarities of the things that I can effortlessly enjoy over and over again. I would like to compare this novel to Lost in Translation (2003), which I think is one of my favourite movies of all time. The similarity is with how the story is laid out: it is not by a series of action, but mood. The story is not brought forward by the actions of its characters but by transporting the reader into the realm of the story—by being there. This is the reason why I can stand watching or reading a work of art more than once.

    So that was what happened when this book was calling me to read it again. There were faint and sweet fragments of people and place in the book that created a longing for me to revisit its world again, to conjure again the landscape that was vivid and serene, and to try to understand again its simple and quiet beauty.


Being Real

a review of Love is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski

Reading Bukowski was like watching the self disintegration of fragile, ephemeral things.

He was a man in an acceleration process of self-destruct, which ironically was the only way he could come to ‘a more amicable term’ with his colourfully austere life. A son of German immigrant parents, much of his childhood was painted with regular beatings from his father, often with a razor strop. And later in his life he would have troubles with the FBI and would spend some time in jail because of draft evasion suspicion following the eruption of World War II. By the time he wrote Love is a Dog from Hell he was screwing with everyone and drank like there was no tomorrow. (of course I didn’t know the man personally, but from his writing—and wikipedia, and the internet, and some shady articles on the internet—I somewhat can picture his lifestyle.)

Love to him is a dog from hell. Stanza after stanza he explored every grave possibility of love, although sometimes he talked about something that seems to me sweet or severely romantic.

With vulgar phrases, raunchy insinuations, and violent swearing, this book is at risk of being dismissed as superficial and shallow, and his whole body of work too, being righteously outlaw and ghetto-championing, he was often seen as an anarchist, but no, really, he was not. He was just being real. I think that is the whole point: he was being brutally honest about his life and his life ain’t pretty. Offering a peek into the 1970s American lowlife he can be funny and he can be sad. He can be ironic and he can be sarcastic. He can be anything because he talked about everything—the girl he screwed, the girl he couldn’t screw, cockroaches in his house, coke and coleslaw, alcohol, and some more alcohol. I wrote ‘he talked’ not ‘he wrote’ because simply his writing sounds more like he was talking. If you hated highbrow poems with rigid structure and forced rhyming you’d appreciate Bukowski. Here’s an excerpt from his poem ‘fuck’

She pulled her dress off/ over her head/ and I saw the panties/ intended somewhat into the/ crotch.

He was nice that way.

 Charles with wife Linda. Source:

Charles with wife Linda.

Why is Abbreviation Such a Long Word?

a review of Words Fail Me by Teresa Monachino

‘Why does monosyllabic have five syllables?’

‘Being blunt can result in cutting remark.’

If the English language is a product this book is a compilation of customer complaints. It records complaints of erratic and erroneous logic behind some English words in a neatly designed hard-cover book. Albeit the title expresses disappointment and angst, the content is all about amusing wordplay arranged in minimalistic graphic of red, white, and black, without any tinge of exasperation from the author.

This book is quite a delightful read. But I am sorry that this is a coffee table book and not a normal book. By being a coffee table book, it missed the chance to go deep with the subject, for books in coffee table category does not allow the subject to get too deep (taxing for the mind). 

I love some coffee table books. Mostly the visual ones, like Daido Moriyama picture books for example, or Nobuyoshi Araki’s Tokyo Lucky Hole, for pictures have an indefinite depth about them—you can stare them for ages and still find something new. But this, words-laced-with-graphic-coffee table book, is different. There is just something very wrong seeing a tiny 5-letter-word cowering in the centre of a page surrounded by a great white space. 

It is also tough to stare at a word for a long time and finding something else than the meaning of the word itself. This shortcoming results a very brief reading (15 minutes or less).

That being said, there is one chapter of the book that’s worth a special mention: Antigrams, which is the opposite of anagrams, that means a word or phrase that is formed by rearranging the letters of another but having a direct opposite meaning or contradiction. Here are some examples:

astronomers — no more stars
within earshot — I won’t hear this
silent — listen
violence — nice love
and so on

I just marvel at these revelations (inventions?) and wondered how the author can come up with these antigrams. How many else are there? There could be more, I guess. And any of us can find more with the blessing of happy accidents.

This book is a testament that language, created by humans, sometimes can be illogical and inefficient just like humans do. I imagine it would be nice to have this book on a stylish table in the drawing room to entertain important guests, for the book’s brief and stylish wit may whet a long, intelligent conversation.

Dirty Thoughts

a review of In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa

Don Rigoberto’s carnal fascination with his beautiful second wife, Lucrecia, is secretly shared by his cherubic son, Alfonsito. Lucrecia on the other hand seems to be intrigued by this development. She is forever pondering whether the love Alfonsito gives her, straightforward as it may seem, like hugs, kisses on the cheek, a little peck on the lips…, is innocent or is concealing another more ambitious motive. A validation comes into sight when she is told by the maid that she saw Alfonsito had been peeping her showering by standing on a perilous perch on the roof of the house. The seduction soon comes from both parts, the stepson, and the stepmother, and when the Don Rigoberto, the father, finds out, Lucrecia is thrown out of the house. What is the motive of this nebulous little villain, Alfonsito? By the end of the book Justita, the maid, asked him whether he did this because he can’t bear to have another woman replace his mama? To that he answers: “I did it for you, Justita…because you’re the one that I…” and his mouth comes hard at hers. As the maid staggered out of the room, rubbing her mouth, she hears Alfonsito laugh with genuine delight, as though enjoying a splendid joke.

The story, which spans 14 episodes long with one epilogue, does actually entertain in the manner of a good twisted fairy tales. What’s interesting though, the chapters are interspersed with steatopygiac nude and one curious near abstract painting by Francis Bacon, and an abstract cubism-like painting by Szyszlo. These paintings come to life in the book, most often told in first person, acting like a silent witness to the lascivious events in the house of Don Rigoberto, all the while lending their artistic beauty to the aesthetic of carnal pleasure.

The novel is an erotic novel written with ambitious stylistic sophistication. While it can be read calmly over a good cup of tea or coffee, it doesn’t lose its power to stimulate the pumping of blood to the groin. However, there is more art in this than sex. Of course, art, art all over. Otherwise, how else could the author have won the Nobel Prize?

I like this book a great deal. It is strange, hazy, and absurd, but it ends just at the right time and length—just right before it gets lost in symbolism and over-absurdness. Although, unlike fairy tales,  there is no ‘moral of the story’ at the end of the book, there are enough things to ponder about; things that change our perception and idea towards lust, desire, and perversity—a great good deal of dirty thoughts, too.

2014: Not a Good Year for Indonesian Short Story Scene

a review of Di Tubuh Tarra, dalam Rahim Pohon

For a selection of short story, this book is quite inconsistent; there must be quite a number of editors involved in selecting these short stories. The best short story (voted by editors) is a story by Faisal Oddang called Di Tubuh Tarra, dalam Rahim Pohon (In Tarra’s Body, In the Womb of the Tree)—which strangely positioned in the first of all the stories in the book, unlike many short story collection where the main story is placed at the extreme back—which tells a cultural story of Toraja ethnic where the dead bodies of newborn are laid to rest inside the main trunk of a big tree. The story is told in part Indonesian, part Torajan with rich cultural vocabulary and footnotes, and could easily discourage unknowing readers. The editors were right: Faisal Oddang’s story is one of the good stories presented in the book. ‘Good’ means fresh. But there are other stories that are so banal I couldn’t help rolling my eyes and falling asleep.

Let’s get to the good stories first. My favourite of the bunch is a short story titled, ‘5 Stories by Sapardi Djoko Darmono’. I remembered laughing so hard at one of the stories that sarcastically narrates a commuter’s trip back home after a day’s work in the city. He staggers home only to find his daughter points out to him that one of his legs isn’t actually his. His leg has been misplaced with others’ in the chock-full train on his way home. His writing is funny, poignant, and unmistakably old-skool. That reminds me so much of how my grandfathers talked with his friends (in a good way). Other than that the good stories are ‘Angela’ by Budi Darma, ‘Jalan Asu’ by Joko Pinurbo, ‘Beras Genggam’ by Gus TF Sakai, and of course the one by Faisal Oddang. That makes 5 good stories. I also noticed one piece by a good writer, Seno Gumira Ajidarma, but I just don’t get his work this time.

Now, as I have said before, there are a lot of disappointing stories. Disappointing because some blindly adopt plot driven narratives which are too reliant on twist they lack of real emotion and depth of characters; disappointing because the topic is stale; but mostly disappointing because they are so boring. Which makes me wonder, for whom does Kompas publish this book? Not for the teenagers, of course; not to entice new readers, I guess; but also not for literary snobs, for some of the stories offend advanced readers with bland narratives, banal topics, and unashamed use of plot twist. It is also worth noting that LG Saraswati Putri did write an epilogue (which feels very much like introduction put at the back) that feels to me like a weak, irresponsible glorification laced with famous philosopher’s names and wisdoms.

All flaws aside I applaud Kompas for its commitment in local literature scene. This book does bring me joy for a wonderful glimpse of rich Indonesian culture, however, I do wish, in the future, Kompas’ editors will get on his desk more interesting short stories so there will be a better distribution of good short stories in its next (2015/2016) short story anthology.

A Little Side Story That Makes A Great Movie

a review of X-Men Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

One thing is clear: the movie is much better. But of course we can’t dismiss the graphic novel version completely for it is the tree where the movie’s story originated.

The actual “Days of Future Past” timeline is actually only 2 chapters in the book. Strangely, the other 3 chapters don’t even qualify as a background story, in all honesty, I thought they serve as a deadweight. Here are the full breakdown of the chapters: 1st part is a recap of the events leading to Jean Grey (Phoenix) death; 2nd part tells a story where Nightcrawler is dragged into Dante’s Hell and how the rest of the X-Men helps him getting out; 3rd part is about Wolverine’s journey to resign from the Canadian Secret Service, which leads to his encounter with the Alpha Team and the beast Wendigo; 4th part (2 chapters) is about Days of Future Past; 5th part tells a novel story about Sprite (Kitty Pryde) who has to fight alone with a Ridley Scott’s alien-like creature at Xavier’s home. Again, there is no relation at all between the rest of the chapters and Days of Future Past.

I also need to say that X-Men don’t really appeal to me much before the movie because of some reasons. One of the reason most easily comes to mind is that they all wear silly-looking tight-spandex costumes that would be more apt to be worn in sex parties than battling evil mutants. Of course I understand that it was the 80s, everything must be colourful and skin-tight, and the same goes with Batman, Spiderman, and Superman, right? Right. But the sheer number of X-Men characters makes it look much ridiculous than others (yes, I can tolerate spandex Superman and Spiderman). Now when the movie comes out (probably starting with First Class [2011]) they make sure that it is realistic enough to make the story more believable and true. Because things like “changing into costume before fight” is something from the past. (Not to mention there are some awkward changing costume occurrences in the book.)

So let’s now focus on Days of Future Past. There are differences although the main idea is the same. The year is 2013 and the world is overrun by Sentinels. The only remaining X-Men was Wolverine, Sprite, Storm, and Colossus. Undetected by the Sentinels, the X-Men sent the mind of present Kitty Pryde to the past to work with the X-Men in the past to prevent the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly and Charles Xavier. Meanwhile the rest of the future X-Men members are getting slaughtered by Sentinels as they guard Pryde’s unconscious body. There was some real eerie moments similar to movie’s Days of Future Past shown in the book, which was great. However, by the end of the story, Kitty Pryde manages to finish her job and the assassination is prevented, however, the world of 2013 is no longer shown in the story arc as the present day X-Men (and the readers, of course) are left to ponder what is happening in the 2013 world. And that really sucks.

But thanks to the movie. Yes, now we know what happen to the 2013 world. And I need to say that the glorious narration of the movie version does actually make the comic open-ended closure feels somewhat lazy and unfinished. (Personally I rarely like story narratives that has to do with time travelling, but X-Men Days of Future Past has the best time-travelling narratives I have ever seen.) 

So if you’re not a hardcore X-Men fan, I’d say just skip it because the movie version is more elaborate and feels like more of a finished product. The Days of Future Past here is lacking of backstory and craft that it feels just like a nice X-Men side story. If there is anything good about it, it would be the warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia of reading classic 1980s Marvel comic books.

The Modern Folktales of Jakarta

Tiada Ojek di Paris

A review of Tiada Ojek di Paris by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo, said Desmond Morris, a zoologist. This statement viewed cities with an emphasis on its people rather than its structures. However, which focus does it want to emphasise? The myriad variety of its people? Or the confines of city life, like a zoo, where people are caged from one another? 

In this book, subtitled “Urban Talk”, Seno Gumira Ajidarma offers sharp observations about Jakartans in 44 stories, which are collected from his published columns in newspapers. These stories are strange, yet familiar and intimate. We have heard these stories before.

Jakarta Alienates
“Ever since the 50s Jakarta has been a city that alienates people,” wrote the author. He went on arguing that city people aren’t bound by blood or culture, unlike their counterparts in the village. People come to Jakarta to fight, to work, to survive. These people often go on their own accord, alienating other people in the process.

Jakartans Hate Real Jakartans
Small talk with “small people” (cab drivers, housemaids, security officers, coolies, and so on) often carries you to the point of “Where do you originally come from?” To which I have always answered almost spontaneously. (Sukabumi.) This answer have never failed to make the conversation more pleasant than before and carry the conversation further and farther away from Jakarta—to the places where they are originated. For some unknown reasons, there is no original Jakarta people. Betawi people, on the other hand, do exist, albeit rarely. Most Jakarta people are consisted of people coming from many places outside Jakarta. This urbanisation is the direct cause of uneven distribution (money, power, development) in Indonesia. For instance, Jakarta enjoys electricity every day for a year but cities in North Sumatra have to endure power crisis that includes deliberate power cut for many hours in a week. There is also a reason why online shopping is a hit for people living “outside the island” (outside Java, minus Bali). No wonder we will find every kind of Indonesian people from outside Jakarta in Jakarta. And no wonder people will dislike you if you proclaim yourself the real Jakarta people.

Jakarta Will Never Have “Ideal” Public Parks
There is also a chapter regarding public parks in Jakarta. Public parks, that can be argued a product of European cities, are not a big hit here in Jakarta, for some reasons. If I may suggest just two: 1. The weather’s too hot 2. The pollution’s too dangerous. The author also observed an area in Jakarta with a luxurious apartment complex that offers a European style park with cupid statues and fountains. And because most luxurious apartment complexes are incarnations of slum areas, more often than not they are situated around shovels and huts. This one is no exception. Fences were erected to fend off people from the slums from enjoying the parks. But all the fences did was fending off the residents from entering the parks (permission from the building management needed). In the end there was only kids from the slums, who got in by jumping off the fence, playing water in the fountains under the afternoon heat. The irony.

Tiada Ojek di Paris (No Ojek in Paris) (note: Ojek is a motorcycle cab that runs independently before the rise of Go-Jek) offers many more of these stories, which are written in a rant, that will always have a place in Jakarta’s urban talk. This book is a reflection in the form of social critic addressed to discerning Jakarta people about their relationship with their city. A love-hate relationship.

A Man's Brutality Against Chaos

Batman: The Dark Knight returns

A review of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

My early love for Batman started with Batman Returns (1992). I still don’t fully understand why, but it was a dark, strange, depiction of a superhero it almost felt as if it wasn’t a superhero movie. (I disliked the whole Superman series.)

The fact that Batman is just a normal human pushing his limits makes Batman more like a metaphor than a fiction. His crusade stands as true as every man’s pursuit for perfection; a universal story of human struggle.

Of course I didn’t get all of that from Batman Returns and probably I am being totally biased because Batman Returns is a part of my idyllic childhood and it will always be forever beautiful.

In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns you will find a truly different Batman from the usual Batman movies’ Batmans. This Batman went to the extreme and being much older (pushing sixty). This Batman had also somehow learned to be more brutal and violent than his younger self. Whatever triggers that—Jason’s death?—he seemed to be more effective in his method (anything to do with experience?). This Batman doesn’t hesitate to kill and possessed dark thoughts. In one scene, Two Face (Harvey Dent) was falling from great height and Batman said to himself:

It takes nearly a minute to fall from this height. And despite what you may have heard, you’re likely to stay conscious all the way down. 

The impact is tremendous. Even bone is turned to powder.

Not much of a corpse left. Mostly liquid.

Problem is…

There might not be any fingerprints. Even dental records would probably useless.

And like I said Harvey…

…I have to know.

Being much older Batman had lost a greater portion of his constitution and not rarely he was facing catastrophic situations that he luckily managed to make narrow escapes. To think about it again, if somebody was to make this series a movie, Clint Eastwood would be the perfect cast.

Other superheroes had also aged badly. Selina was now running an escort company, Green Arrow was a one-handed fugitive, and Superman was a mindless government slave.

Batman was assisted by 13 year-old girl, a new Robin—Carrie—which could be a little bit strange that Batman was willing to risk the life of a teenager for his crusade. But this tells much about Batman at the end of his wits. He had little or no choice to clean up Gotham’s mess after years of his absence. He would employ any method (including a bloody fisticuff with a brawny mutant leader half his age) to get things done.

I truly think Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a graphic novel masterpiece. It never gets old. I’ve read it many times from the first time I read it 8 years ago. Frank Miller’s art was also at its best—the meticulous pencilling, smooth panelling, and noir-minimalist colouring really make it work.

Your graphic novel shelf would be incomplete without this artefact. I have lost my copy twice and bought twice as many (including the noir hardback version).

Ayah Dengan Anak Dengan Suami Orang Dengan Pacar Orang Dengan Pelacur

Review of Cerita Pendek Tentang Cerita Cinta Pendek

Bisa dibayangkan Indonesia di awal tahun 2000an: sebuah bangsa yang baru keluar dari pemerintahan Orde Baru dengan keterbukaan pikiran sebatas… ya… enggak jauh-jauh dari jaman Orde Baru, yang lalu "dididik" oleh stasiun TV film-film sinetron yang menggambarkan kisah cinta orang kaya (mobil Mercy, anak orang kaya, Arie Wibowo) vs. orang miskin (tukang sayur cantik, pelayan seksi, anak sekolahan ketinggalan jaman) yang selalu berakhir happy ending; koneksi internet secepat perahu getek dan buku-buku New York best seller yang terjemahannya kacau balau; pelajaran bahasa Indonesia di sekolah dengan kalimat: Ayah bekerja di kantor. Ibu memasak di dapur, serta keterbatasan supply film porno dan keaktifan lembaga sensor Indonesia yang menyensor seluruh adegan ciuman di TV dan bioskop.

Bisa dibayangkan kesuksesan Djenar Maesa Ayu di tahun 2000an: seorang wanita cantik yang berani bercerita tentang perselingkuhan dan percintaan anak-orang tua; berani mendeskripsikan dengan detil kenikmatan perselingkuhan, seks, dan kegiatan gonta-ganti pasangan; dapat menulis kata-kata “sperma mengering di selangkangan”, “lengket dan basah” serta “menusuk anus”… dengan begitu nyamannya.

Maka pantas saja Djenar langsung memenangkan Khatulistiwa Literary Awards (untuk karya Mereka Bilang Saya Monyet!) yang merupakan sesuatu yang bisa dimengerti jika anugerah tersebut dilihat sebagai usaha “buru-buru” lembaga sastra/kesenian dalam menarik keluar bangsa Indonesia dari kegelapan jaman Orde Baru. Anggaplah karya Djenar Maesa Ayu sebagai simbol keinginan bangsa Indonesia untuk lebih terbuka (pikirannya).

Kekuatan Djenar sebagai penulis bisa dibilang adalah jumlah energi dan kelancangan yang terdapat di banyak kalimat yang ditulisnya:

…saya begitu ingin mendengar pantas sebagai pantat.

…bagi saya lebih terhormat melacur demi uang, ketimbang terus melacur demi sebuah lembaga pernikahan.

Jika hati bapak setengah senang, ia akan menyerahkan tubuhnya ditelanjangi dan dibolak-balik oleh bapak seperti adonan martabak telur.

Puitis, lucu, dan tak terduga, kalimat-kalimat tersebut seringnya menghibur. Itu adalah Djenar at her very best. 

Namun kumpulan cerpen ini mungkin memiliki potensi yang lebih apabila didukung dengan proses editing yang lebih baik. Karena banyak kalimat yang terlihat “kegemukan”—tidak ekonomis.

Lalu permasalahan lain: hanya sedikit cerita di buku ini yang bisa dibilang berbeda dibanding cerita yang lainnya. Terasa sekali kemonotonannya dari satu cerita ke yang lainnya. 

Pertanyaannya, seberapa jauh tema seks dan tabu bisa digarap oleh Djenar? 

Hanya sebatas percintaan anak dan ayah, istri orang dan suami orang atau pelacur dengan pacar orang. Memang ada beberapa yang berbeda (dan yang saya suka), namun 80 persennya adalah cerita itu-itu saja yang disajikan dengan urutan yang berbeda-beda untuk memungkinkan adanya plot twist. Yang memang perlu diketahui saya bukanlah penggemar plot twist.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

A review of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

Ray Carver’s sparse style makes a pleasant read.

He never bothers in going too much into the detail; rather, he relies on the reader’s imagination to take the place of the absent words. The effect that follows is quite magical: each sentence springs to life with rich, imagination-conjured details without the unnecessary drag. 

Perhaps, the bigger portion of the praise of style should be given to Gordon Lish, the influential literary editor who edited much of Carver’s work, although of course this book is not all about style without substance. 

Haunting, kooky, and deeply bourgeois, Carver stories deals with the plight of lonely men and women and of the handicapped, killers, and lunatics.

There is this story about a man whose wife has left him. He moves all the things in his house—bed, sofa, table—out to the front yard of the house and drinks on the table while waiting for somebody to buy them. When a lovestruck couple stops by to buy his bed he tells them to stay and offers them a drink. So they stay and dance with the man to the record while the neighbours are watching.

And there is this story about a handicapped man trying to sell a house owner a picture of his house. The home owned agrees to have his house picture taken but with him standing on the roof throwing stones as far as he can. “I don’t know,” shouted the handicapped man while holding the camera. “I don’t do motion shots.” But the house owner screamed, “Again!” and took another stone.

These stories kill it for me. They are beautiful. And of course there are others, like “The Bath”, a story about a boy who is knocked down by a car on his birthday—a story that was featured in Haruki Murakami’s compilation of Birthday short stories.

The last story is the story whose title is printed on the cover of the book and has inspired the titles of two other significant books (What We Talk About When We Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander). It narratives a conversation about love by four distinct characters and becomes the subject of the movie Birdman, which scooped up four Oscars at the 87th Academy Awards earlier this year.