A Review: “Monyet Bercerita” (A Monkey Has Stories)

PERSONALLY, I know Aris Kurniawan. He is a friend of mine with whom I occasionally meet at a local park on Saturday morning. We go there for the different reasons: he does aerobics training with a bunch of sedentary people who would rather spend their Saturday morning snoring in bed; whereas, I do my calisthenics routine and yoga practice, all mixed up to suit my own needs and flavor instead of observing a certain, fixed set of rules.

He is by no means related to the renowned novelist Eka Kurniawan because “Kurniawan” is a very very commonplace last name in Indonesia (a country where last name doesn’t mean anything except the extension of our first name). But he has a certain literary flair, too.

In spite of his humble beginning, Aris is a prolific writer himself. He may not garner as much praise and global acknowledgment as the other Kurniawan I just talked about. Yet, I should say he has got his own place in the local literary scene.

To my surprise, Aris had begun his writing career long before he is as settled as now. He got published when he was an eleventh grader. His first work is titled “Krematorium“, a poem published by then Weekly newspaper “Pikiran Rakyat Edisi Cirebon” (currently known as “Mitra Dialog“). Currently, he is working as a copywriter, just like me, by day. By night, we change into creatures with literary pursuits.

If you happen to love batik, Cirebon (or some say “Ceribon”, which is not a correct spelling) is no stranger. This coastal town in the border of Central and West Java saves a lot of history and mysteries.

And this is where Aris was born and grew up.

This fact alone promises us readers a lot of stories from local scenes that have not been widely discussed or brought to spotlight to the global audience.

In his excerpt, Aris explained that his short story collection “Monyet Bercerita” (roughly translated as “A Monkey Has Stories“) is built with two different premises, i.e. his childhood in Cirebon and his experiences as a grownup in Tangerang, now part of Banten province.

When Aris gave me this book a week ago as a friendly gift, I had no idea the depth of the stories inside it.

Feminism is one of the current issues that readers can find out in MB. “Nokturno” is his short story that tells a badass heroine that acts like a vigilante, trying to trap a dirty, corrupt politician with her own tactics. Too bad, she is outsmarted. Probably the failed eastern version of Amy ‘Gone Girl’ Dunne.

Local rural legends and myths also spice up the collection. You’ll find the legend of Prince Panjunan and Kejaksan. Also, there are some stories of the troops of betraying soldiers who got cursed into monkeys for violating their loyalty oath intertwined in narratives.

The book is not a heavy read, either physically and intellectually. It’s only 190 pages long and you’ll find it even more digestible when reading.

The only thing that may obstruct your reading experience is some local slang words (probably Javanese slang). I wish there were some foot notes to explain what they mean. Luckily, I am Javanese myself. Hence, it’s not an issue for me. (*/)

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