smokey taboo


on my last visit to jakarta i had expressed my interest in picking one or two local reads and during this trip now the decision fell on Ayu Utami's saman. i vaguely remember reading the book either when the junior high school years were nearing the end or when i was still in my very first, freshly-ironed high school uniform. but my reading that i just finished yesterday did not feel like a re-reading at all; only very few (i must admit, too vulgar and too in-the-face for my standard back then) details brought a real sense of deja vu to my brain. unfitting, spoke the environment surrounding my fourteen or fifteen years old to some phrases and references in the book. in the name of anticipative clarification here i would like to further declare that it was not because of any forgettable phrases or unimpressive storyline. it's just that back then, perhaps, i was too young or way too illiterate for her book, although what i'd really like to do now is to talk to my teenage self, "great, at least you've tried" with a sincere pat on the shoulder, for introducing me to the all-consuming opulence and brilliance evenly spread on EVERY page...

saman shot up to my best 5 books quickly, even before i reached the middle part. the book to me felt partly distant partly near: devastating, futile, like most books that seized a good amount of space in my mind. amidst all the hopelessness and in the sea of desperate thoughts, everyone is stained in one way or another. that seemed to be what saman was trying to say. was it comforting? not really, because all the wrongdoings done in the book seemed very unsettling, like if you haven't experienced them in real life chances are, it's possible. saman opened the door to all unnerving possibilities that, like death, always seem to only happen to other people, not oneself. in such scenario finding a character who could secure an absolute protagonist role became difficult; i could not shelter my reading self under any of which. what could not be found was a character who could guarantee that everything is going to be okay. no one i could trust, although some might seem trustworthy in several parts. they have reasons, of course. promising personalities that would put one's well-being at stake for the sake of avoiding harm to others. but it is also good intentions that pave most ways to hellnot only are they inadequate, theyin one too many casesruin everything.

the book has often been deemed to be 'controversial' because of the sexual content but i myself am of opposite opinion, personally i think the work is important. saying that the beautiful prose manage to disguise the stark vulgarity behind them all would be a shortcut, but i would admit that in any book, the main topics will still be important and they have to be shown through various measures (in this book, sexuality, or women's and supposedly ingenuous man's view of sexuality through ayu's distinct phrases). but the writing did not overexpose or sensationally exhibit the vulgarity to address and explore the issue, they just popped up at unexpected times, which i always subsequently felt to be oddly appropriate. here ayu did not only talk about gray area, or saying that sex is a universal thing or whatsoever, she more or less showed how accidents happen and although coincidences are not supposed to be the main thread connecting those dots and leading to any sexual experience, they often open the opportunity and teach the characters many lessons.

the book was thick of various elements: history, fairytale, social values that merge into a smoothly threaded knit of self-constructed reality. but on a very personal level having re-read the book served as a concrete reminder of what has changed in me and in my surrounding inevitably.

i stopped my writing here. that was about all; there is actually a sequel to the book that i haven't finished

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