It was near the end of my time in the Netherlands when I strolled around the centrum and decided to go to my favorite bookstore, ABC. I thought, well, I hadn’t read any Dutch literary works! In a shelf I saw a book authored by Louis Couperus, someone whose name I only knew through a street in Delft. It was titled De Stille Kracht and it had a picture of wayang in its cover; apparently the novel talked about a life in the Indies, with a mystic twist.

I thought, sure, interesting.

I started reading the book after my thesis defense (that I had time to read about thesis-unrelated subjects…). The book felt slow in the beginning, but it started to be interesting when the characters played table-turning, something I thought was like jaelangkung or ouija board. Now the mystery began! I practically had the book with me everywhere during all my trying-to-do-all-the-paperworks-needed-for-my-graduation. I was reading the book in TU Delft’s TBM building lobby, waiting for my diploma-supplement, when Wim, my thesis supervisor, approached. He was excited to know my thoughts about the book, so I told him I’d write him after I finished reading. He said something like, he wanted to know my opinion as someone who actually is from the country (as in, former east Indies).

Six month later, here I am just e-mailing him my review. Don’t ask why it takes so long, I have a reputation for being a procrastinator. I guess I could share that with my blog readers, so here it is. By the way, it feels like the novel has several different layers… I’m not very good with symbolism so I will mostly see it from the outer layers.

 

In Indonesia, there is a common ‘question’ about the colonial Dutch that relates to mysticism. It was the “Hey, we have all the black magic, so why didn’t we terrorized the colonialist away with it?” And then other people would be like “Yeah, but the black magic wouldn’t work on them; it only works for people who believe it. Since they didn’t believe it, the black magic didn’t get to them,” I accepted this notion until I read the book. I didn’t realize that someone might have tried to curse the non-native people back then and succeeded, as it was suggested in the book. Of course it is still a work of fiction, but at least the theme was interesting to be explored (or to be written in a novel, in this case) by someone from a Dutch background. Now I’m curious whether this actually happened back then.

(In an unrelated note, I am actually afraid of ghosts and whatnot. When I lived in the Netherlands, I wasn’t afraid of any ghosts, since I thought I wouldn’t understand them anyway. When I got back to Indonesia, I couldn’t even open the curtain at night–I thought there could be a ghost on the window. And this is even when I was in the room with my boyfriend, not alone…)

Going to the deeper layer, the novel also talked about colonialism. This is what I thought of the “symbolic” meaning from all the mysticism presented at the foreground–the silent resistance to colonialism. I remember reading about the hajis who came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t help but thinking that it’s only in the characters’ mind. Could it be that they don’t feel welcomed in the colony? However I can’t comment much about this colonialism layer; I totally have no idea about those! My generation is too far away from the colonial era. I have no clue about the power relation back then. More so about the “silent disapproval” of colonialism, because what we learned at school was about all the resistance movement (e.g. Aceh War, Diponegoro War, Padri War).

Reading the book as a millennial, I got a lot of insights of how life was ~100 years ago. One part that struck me was near the end of the book, where Eva Eldersma described that in Batavia people did their shopping with telephone; that is exactly what I do nearly everyday today (in Jakarta, ha), shopping from my phone! (Well, plus the fact that I actually work in an e-commerce company.) Other than that, it’s fun reading all the different characters’ points of view.

So that was it. Several updates:
  • From the Wikipedia page, apparently the novel was inspired by a real event…
  • Wim replied and he said that my review reminded him of Marquez’s “magical realism”, where magic and mystery have layers. Now I guess I’d add One Hundred Years of Solitude to my reading list…

See you in the next book reviews! I know that I promised a lot to write but in the end didn’t write any of them lol~

I watched a lot of documentaries lately. The Act of Killing (Jagal). The Square. Dispereert Niet. The Smartest Guys in the Room. Hot Girls Wanted. The Look of Silence (Senyap). Jalanan (Streetside). Living on One Dollar. Whatever title I can’t remember. But, nothing is as moving as Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.

(spoiler alert & long post alert, this is basically a review lol)

I spent nearly the entire movie crying, except two scenes of laugh: when the people put kitchen appliances in their head because of a new law which won’t permit people wearing helmet (yes ofc I remember *that* profile picture of mine) and near the end of the movie when a toddler smile and said Glory to Ukraine 😀

I found the Revolutionary Etude in the middle of the movie super relevant. Even though in this case, it’s Ukrainians vs Ukrainians (the Etude refers to Poland’s November Uprising 1831, vs Russia). As relevant as Ukraine’s national anthem which is sung again and again by the protesters.

Above all, I am shocked seeing people beaten brutally by the police. How the Berkut raided an emergency hospital. How Titushky also present there, not only in Indonesia (preman) and Egypt (baltagiya). And now I know how provocateurs work in chaos. Yes, those things are in media everyday and it happens all around the world in conflict area – but in this case, it is beautifully-yet-painfully told a movie: just as the one in Les Miserables! There are also more personal stories. One of them is when a doctor tell the audience that it’s heartbreaking to just admit that a patient is dead and not continue the CPR, because there are next patients waiting to be saved. If you try to save the current one, you might not have the chance to help the next.

(For the background, I know Ukraine’s case through an Universiteit Leiden public lecture and an Ukrainian friend I made when he sits next to me on a transatlantic flight, so not the media)

I know that the critics say that the movie only sees from one point of view which wants Ukraine to be part of EU, but, really, the audience are taken by the story. Told you before, I shed my tears throughout the film. Every scene leaves a scar in your heart. Every scene is a climax. 10/10.