From our world to people in the world

Note: The main questions from my sessions at the Philippine International Literary Festival 2015 are what does it take for a writer to explain her/himself and her/his works to an audience with different cultural backgrounds? How much responsibility to her/his country does the local writer have when writing for an international audience? Here are my thoughts.

I just got back from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where Indonesia was invited as the guest of honour. Indonesia is the first country in Southeast Asia who get this opportunity and for country like Indonesia this opportunity maybe would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

As a guest of honour, we were given a big space to display our books and to use it to promote them. Our government spent a lot of money for this event, more than USD 13 million. The money has been used for translating books, bringing writers and performers to Frankfurt, setting up venue and programs that can attract people to come. We received a lot of publications in many international media for this.

But the most important and relevant question for this kind of event is how many books bought by international publishers to be published in their countries? Not many!

I am one of the lucky writers whose works got translated and published abroad. From the colonial era until today, 2015, only few Indonesian books have been translated and published by international publishers. And as far as I know the same condition happens in other southeast asian countries.

Talking about being translated and published abroad, always raising some frequent questions, like: why these books got the translated but why not those book? What makes some books get more attention from international audiences? What kind of books that wanted by international readers?

I’ve written 4 novels. All of them have been translated into English, and one into German. My writing is always about my society, people in Indonesia from previous regime until today. My story is always about people facing various problem, especially the kind of problems that exist because of injustice, discrimination, intolerance, corruption – over all it’s about how people try to challenge dominant power around their life. The power could be state, government, military, religion, knowledge, the majority group, and also the people itself: their mind, their behavior, their fear.

My first novel, Entrok (The Years of The Voiceless), is a story about living under totalitarian regime. Through the eyes of a mother and her daughter, the novel gives readers – especially to the generation who was born and grew up after the period – awareness there was a time in our country when military was very powerful, government controlled everything, and people made to be afraid and surrendered all of the time.

While the story is about Indonesia, it’s also about the spirit of freedom and democracy, about the resistance to the military power, about bravery to say No to all form of control and censorship by our government. It’s all about humanity spirit that could be very relevant with every people in every country.

My second novel, 86, is about how corruption becomes a systemic problem in the today’s Indonesia. Isn’t corruption is also one of the biggest problem in the world now? Yet many of us still don’t realize that corruption is not only about some people stealing some money. More than that, corruption is a humanity problem that makes many people lives under poverty, got bad education, and lack of health service.

My third novel Maryam (The Oucast), tells a story of an Islamic minority group in Indonesia that has been persecuted and has been living in a refugee camp for more than 7 years now. It’s about discrimination, intolerance, violence. It’s also about how religion be used by some people, some groups for their own benefits. Discrimination and tolerance are happening in everyplace in the world. It’s not just about Indonesia or Islam. It’s a problem in every society.

My fourth novel Pasung Jiwa (Bound/Gebunden) touches issue about transgender and discrimination they are facing at all levels and how Indonesian people deal with the issue of LGBT. Above all, it’s about how every individual deserves their freedom.

I’ve been invited to many places to talk about my novels, my society, Indonesia, and of course about Islam. Some of them really want to know about my works, and some of them seem just curious to know about a Muslim woman writer who happened to come from the world’s biggest Muslim populated country, and who is able to be critical about her society and her religion.

Since the beginning I’ve never thought to write something to serve what international public wants. I’ve never been trying to find some controversial issues that getting international attention and publication. I don’t write just to be translated or published in abroad.

I just want to write what’s important for my society. What’s the biggest problems we are facing now. I am writing to say something, to make people who don’t have voice can be heard, to make forgotten problem get attention.

And now, when my writing get attention from international readers, getting translated and published, I really believe because we are – wherever we are – facing the same problems now. And because we are, regardless our nationality and our language, talking in one common language: humanity.

Okky Madasari by AFP

*) The picture is from GettyImages/AFP. Read also the story from AFP that appears in many newspapers/news portal, like: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/life-culture/obscure-indonesian-writers-tackle-taboos-on-world-stage

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