Words

Unforgettable

Beauty is a wound

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

There are times when you happen upon a book and are completely blown away by its scope, craft and story. Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound is just such a novel—sweeping, epic, with a vast but unforgettable cast of characters.

It’s reminiscent of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece, earthy and ripe with magic, folklore and ghosts, only it’s set in Indonesia at the second half of the 20th century.

The novel begins when Dewi Ayu explodes from her grave, two decades after she died. Still beautiful but now wrinkled, the former “comfort woman” to Japanese soldiers is as stubborn and blunt as ever. She’s amazed to know the daughter she tried to kill in her womb, named Beauty, is not only alive, but is also 21 years old and three months pregnant. 

“There is no curse more terrible than to give birth to a pretty female in a world of men as nasty as dogs in heat,” Dewi Ayu says, and what follows is a recounting of the many misfortunes and complicated histories of her four legendary daughters, told within the context of modern Indonesian history.

The story follows Dewi Ayu’s childhood at the outbreak of World War II. After the bombing of Surabaya by the Japanese, Oma Stammler, the grandmother who raised her, evacuates to Holland.  Forever headstrong, Dewi Ayu refuses to leave. Rounded up with other prisoners of war, she finds herself forced into prostitution at Mama Kalong’s brothel. 

While the other girls quake and quiver, Dewi Ayu resolves to have the upper hand. She becomes the most sought-after whore in the city of Halimunda, and in short order gives birth to three beautiful but cursed daughters: Alamanda, Adinda, and Maya Dewi. Each experiences her share of violence, hardship and heartbreak, just like the fledgling country of Indonesia as it struggles for independence.

For those whose knowledge of this exotic place and time period is limited, Beauty is a Wound is a remarkable introduction. Kurniawan vividly evokes the smell of frangipani blossoms, the dampness of a mushroom farm, and a wedding celebration enlivened by seven groups of master puppeteers and kuda lumping trance dancing. 

He takes us through Japanese occupation of Indonesia, the return of the Dutch and their subsequent overthrow, the roundup and massacre of thousands of Communists in 1965, and the 1975 invasion of East Timor. Halimunda is riddled with the ghosts of Dutch cacao plantation owners, Japanese soldiers, guerrilla fighters, con men, Communists, and thugs—and all the women they fell deeply in love with, obsessed over, exalted, raped and exploited.

Some readers may wish to map out the complex relationships between daughters, lovers, children—and even a dog—while others may be content to let the story unfold. The drama is both large and fantastical, but the author (supported by a deft translation by Annie Tucker) expertly brings the various threads together at the end. 

Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System. Her grandmother, who died recently at the age of 100, was born on the Indonesian island of Belitung.

More Words...
Climber's Corner
The highs and lows

You may have heard that it’s Whatcom County Library System’s 75th anniversary year, and to celebrate we’ve created the Read & Share program featuring Leif Whittaker’s excellent memoir My Old Man and the Mountain

Whittaker is the son of “Big Jim” Whittaker, the first American to…

more »
Kate Tempest
A way with words

Warning: If you’re on a tight schedule, don’t search for Kate Tempest on Youtube. If you don’t heed this admonition, there’s a very good chance you’ll spend the next hour—or however long the clip is—watching the mesmerizing performer bringing her fascinating stories to life with a…

more »
Deep River
Epic action on the Columbia

In his debut novel, Matterhorn, based on his experiences as a Marine in Vietnam, Pacific Northwest author Karl Marlantes established himself as a master of evocative settings and characters developed over time. Deep River, his second novel, is a sprawling family epic set along the mouth of…

more »
Events
Today
Fall Lynden Craft and Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Spokes

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Mixtape

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Anacortes Vintage Market's Evergreens and Icicles

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Scream Fair's Camp Fear

7:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

Hellingham

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Squawktober

8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Blaine Senior Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Orca Recovery Day Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack River

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Yoga and Detox

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Blanchard Beast Trail Race

9:00am|Blanchard Forest Lower Trailhead

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Steam Expo

10:00am|Lynden Middle School

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Fall Festival

11:00am|Camp Korey

Kraut-chi Ferment Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Winter Warmth Drive and Pickup

11:00am|Assumption Church Gym

Art Therapy Workshop

1:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Telling Tough Stories

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fables and Tales Upcycle Runway Challenge

6:00pm|Settlemeyer Hall

Concrete Ghost Walk

6:00pm|Concrete Theatre

Brew on the Slough

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Civic Way Sportsplex

How I Learned I'm Old

7:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to the River Live

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Skagit Symphony presents Highland Heritage

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Tomorrow
My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Spokes

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Trails to Taps Relay

9:00am|Depot Market Square

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Wild Mushroom Show

12:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Harvest Festival

1:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

What If We All Bloomed?

4:00pm|Village Books

Murder Mystery Dessert Theater

6:00pm|Christ Fellowship Church

Monday
Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Housing Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Northwest Paella

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »