Borderless books

Note: As our leaders just announced 10 ASEAN countries as one community in Kuala Lumpur last week while I was talking in the Philippine Literary Festival, here is my opinion published in The Jakarta Post

Borderless books

It’s very difficult — even I could say impossible — to find books from Philippine authors in Indonesia. The same is true when we try to find Indonesian novels in the Philippines, Singapore or Malaysia.

We are so close yet we are so far. We know much about writers and literary works from Europe and the United States, but we know nothing about writers and literary works in our region.

We, Indonesians, know nothing about Philippine literature, Singaporean authors, Malaysian writers, let alone those from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

Our leaders just announced the integration of 10 ASEAN countries into one community. One of the biggest consequences is that there will be no borders anymore in business. Every country could sell their products to other countries within ASEAN, people from every countries can work in other ASEAN countries.

While the government thinks about business, industry and all economic aspects, books seem to be forgotten. Our government doesn’t realize yet that books are also an important commodity.

We have been trying so hard to make international publishers and readers look into our books, yet we forgot that we have also a big market here — in our own region of 600 million people or so within the ASEAN community.

Just imagine the day when books from the Philippines and Indonesia are read and sold in all 10 ASEAN countries. It’s not only to give benefits to the authors and publishers, but also to boost the country’s economy.

Now, when we agree that our books should be read and sold in our region, we have to identify obstacles that have prevented it from happening.

First, of course: the different languages. The peoples of the region speak in their own languages. And, of course, books are written in their own respective languages.

Even Indonesians and Malays who share linguistic roots, have very different languages. Like it or not, English is our
common language. Yet only few writers in Southeast Asia write in English.

Translation is a must, and this requires big attention and help from our governments. It would be easy, if our respective governments cared and wanted to give priority to this issue. They could work together, exchanging our literary works, cross-selling books, making our writers known by each other.

Second, after our books have been translated, the governments should work together to make our books read by students in every school. As one community, we really need to make the knowledge of ASEAN people and ASEAN cultures basic knowledge. And literature is one of the most important aspects of knowledge.

It’s really sad to realize that we need much help from the government. But that’s the reality. We have to start first by creating a system with the help of the government, and then it can be continued and improved by people like us.

In Indonesia, we already started with the ASEAN Literary Festival. But it’s a really small event compared to what governments can do.

Okky Madasari

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