I have been reading ‘Batavia 1936’ for the past a few weeks. This is the first novel in Bahasa Indonesia, my second language (my first one is Javanese language) that I read after Ayu Utami’s Lalita back in 2012/2013, if I’m not mistaken.
As I write in this post, I have been struggling reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia because I spend much time reading books in English language. Reading books in Bahasa Indonesia feels awkward. It really is.
I can’t remember how enjoyable reading novels in Bahasa Indonesia when I was a university student, which means some 10 years back. Pragmatically, since I want to write books in Bahasa Indonesia, I have to read novels in the language, whether or not I like the idea. Yes, I know. The motivation sounds money-oriented. Sometimes I feel guilty reading books in Bahasa Indonesia out of money. Genuine writers who happen reading this piece will hate me. I’m sorry.
Anyway, I want to regain the delight of reading local literature though, yes again, it’s more because of money. What you may think as incorrect motivation has guided me learning again how to read stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I kind of enjoying the process.
‘Batavia 1936’ is a romance story that takes social background in Menteng area, Jakarta’s elite neighborhood when Indonesia is still under the Dutch occupation. Batavia itself is the old name of Jakarta before Indonesia gains independence from the Japanese troops on August 17, 1945.
The novel, which sadly doesn’t sell well, is quite rare. The writer, Widya W. Harun, opts writing a novel that doesn’t match with Indonesia’s literary enthusiasts preference who mostly like reading books about modern love story.
I salute the author for sticking at what she believes in. I bet she does a hard job matching her idea with the historical and background at the time. I believe she works hard collecting information to support her book. This makes me liking her already.
‘Batavia 1936’, as I read so far, tells about Kirana and Kirani, two siblings who have their hearts set on one man, Hans van Deventer, a Dutch doctor whose mother is a Javanese. While the essence of the story is not something extraordinary,what makes the novel worthy of my time is because the author brings me back to what happens in Jakarta before it is freed from colonialism.
As I go through page by page, my mind attempts to visualize the houses where the major characters live. I let my imagination wanders through time and space when Jakarta, which is now so crowded, is once a peaceful city. No bus, no trains. But horses and carriages.
As I read the book I try to put myself at the era where women, although like Kirana and Kirani who come from wealthy family, are restricted. I mean the two figures aren’t described as having jobs to do.
Male figures take the helms of the families. They work to make ends meet. While women, for instance, the mother of Kirani and Kirana, is skilled at household; cooking and sewing. The life of the rich people in the book is so glamorous even when television doesn’t exist. They throw expensive parties. They are like celebrities.
So far, the novel is a pleasant one to read. Because I can wholly sense the restriction of culture in it. Though Kirani and Hans love each other they don’t touch or kiss. People at that time holds culture so much that they can respect each other before they tie the knot.
The language is so soft, much different from today’s novels. From it, I can draw the conclusion that the language itself has grown so much. Although I am still a little bit struggling putting all of my heart into the book, I’d love to know how the story unfolds. Will Hans be with Kirani or her sister, Kirana?
Guess my efforts of making a good comeback as a national literary lover has been proven fruitful so far. Yeah, I think myself so.
The picture is taken from this