“Aroma Karsa”: The Review

DEWI LESTARI and the literary prowess she is now having are quite astonishing, to be honest. Because I am not her huge fan, I am not quite familiar with her works. I once read “Rectoverso”, a compilation of short stories published back in 201. But that is all what I know. I have never read her works like Supernova and the family which are considered big in the contemporary literature in Indonesia.

And to be brutally honest, my skepticism of her work is partly – or maybe largely – because she had a celebrity status prior to her being a literary figure. Maybe people view her highly because she is just a singer-turns-writer commercial success. But I ask to myself again, is that a symptom of envy? I laugh out loud. Indeed, it is true. That IS envy. Literary envy. Apart from everything, she is just so lucky to have that fame which helped her in some way to soar. But I know that fame only won’t get her so far and Dee – her pen name – proves her literary journey does not end too soon. So okay, she has that X-factor that no other authors in Indonesia ever have but I am convinced she works hard, really hard for this and she totally deserves it all.

While I am writing this review, I am still reading her latest work “Aroma Karsa” which is one of the hottest recent published Indonesian novels this very year. I got this from a friend working at the publisher of the novel, hoping to get a cheaper price. I just believe that I made a good bargain even without comparing the selling price at bookstores around me. Why? First of all, no bookstores that sell Indonesian novels around where I live. Tragic I know. Yes, they just closed that Trimedia outlet which was the nearest I could get whenever I want to know some recent Indonesian novels. My place to go is then a local public library, but then I doubt they have that novel because the book is too recent to be displayed in the public library. I am not sure they have it already by now and even they do have some copies, people would just – I assumed – borrow them all. And I have no copy left to borrow.

My first impression upon reading the book is that the book was like fairytale set in the modern, capitalism age. We have got this corporate setting as the entire backdrop. Of course, the palace (keraton) and Bantar Gebang and Sentul are just real settings but I cannot find the proof that Dee is using these settings as more than just settings. She obviously focuses more on the plot.

That said, the novel is very much plot driven. And like her main character, Jati Wesi, Dee knows very much that curiosity is one thing she needs to sustain during the whole reading experience from beginning to end.

I can feel the pace is quite fast. Even a little bit too fast. Imagine you are in a journey and Dee as a tour guide is taking you to a series of destinations. But in every destination, you only have some minutes to sit and ponder and ruminate. On other occasions, she just lets you take a few minutes and take photos and leave. Isn’t it the Indonesian style of traveling? Maybe. But apart from that, I guess this is what a popular, best-selling novel has to have. It has to encourage readers to read on. Once they are bored and put the book down, that is considered failure. They must be glued to it all the time. It is even better if the book which sprawls 690-ish pages is so compelling that readers can devour it in one single sitting or night. Of course, it is possible provided that you are jobless so you have so much time to spend alone, and you are living alone in your apartment and no relatives can bother or disrupt you in the process of enjoying “Aroma Karsa”.

At the first time, I was stunned by Dee’s diction. So many Indonesian words that are infrequently seen in the contemporary works of literature can be found here. They emerge from Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia, I am sure. And it gives the impression that Dee is trying so hard to follow the rule. Or perhaps her editor made her do this? I have no idea. But I conclude that was quite impressive. I am glad that she takes her work seriously, now that N.H. Dini is gone. She may be her successor.

Another comment I have in mind is that Dee has a peculiar taste of naming her characters. Jati Wesi is not a common name for a Javanese man, as far as I am concerned. I am Javanese myself but never have I seen a man named this way by his parents. But then, hey this is a fiction work anyway! But if I were her, I would select another name which ensures audience that Jati Wesi is a real one. And Tanaya Suma? I have no idea. That is a very atypical name of a Javanese girl.

And the Javanese mythology involved here is unbeatable. Further research is needed to know if this is made up or not.

Speaking of the description of smell that Jati Wesi and Tanaya Suma have is just awesome. Yet, in a certain point I feel so bloated with all the names of essential oils, chemical substances that are hardly pronouncable for laymen like me. This to me slowly turns sickening because Dee does not bother to give even a short footnote as to what X means or is commonly used or discovered in what. Once, twice, thrice, okay I am impressed but the rest looks like a sheer show off of olfactory-related vocabulary. It stresses that the author does the hard work of researching but how can it be informative to us readers when we cannot even know a glimpse of it? That is it.

(More review to follow as I finish reading the book)

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