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Durga Umayi: A Novel [Paperback]

Y. B. Mangunwijaya , Ward Keeler

Price: £16.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

30 July 2004
This scathingly satirical and hilarious novel, first published in Indonesia in 1991, affords both a blithely irreverent overview of Indonesian history in the Sukarno and Suharto eras and brilliant insights into the postcolonial condition. The story begins in the 1930s, before Indonesia's independence from Dutch rule, and follows the fortunes of a poor Javanese village woman who becomes a servant in the household of President Sukarno. In a world where speaking truth to power really has no point, she learns the arts of accommodation and does very well for herself. The price she pays is the loss of her identity, her connection to her kin and origins, and her moral standing. Framed by the world of ritual shadow plays - the realm of witches like Durga and the goddess Umayi - Mangunwijaya's novel gives an unblinking but remarkably compassionate account of people caught up in the great nationalist maelstrom of Indonesia's recent history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (30 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295983922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295983929
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14 x 1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,915,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


This is easily one of the most inventive, urgent and passionate texts I've read. It's also a testament to what skilled translators, the neglected heroes of the world literature scene, can achieve. Hats off to you, Ward Keeler.--Ann Morgan"ayearofreadingtheworld.com" (01/01/2012)

About the Author

Y. B. Mangunwijaya (1929-2001) was a well-known Indonesian political activist and writer as well as a Catholic priest, engineer, and architect. Ward Keeler is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Life at the Center of the Swirl 25 Oct 2004
By C. Thresher - Published on Amazon.com
This is an amazing read. I thought I was lost by the end of the first chapter, but soon realized I was actually bobbing right next to the unseen narrator and main character: we were all swept into the strong waters of recent (1960s-present) Indonesian history.

This is the story of an ordinary woman drawn by fate to witness and participate in a string of delirious events that unfold after Indonesia's independence from the Dutch colonial powers. This woman, Auntie Wi, Madame Nussy, Sis Tiwi, (whatever she decides to call herself) spirals around the world of partisan politics, financial corruption, and unsatisfied love with a charmed and resiliant spirit, but in the end finds herself yearning for some imagined dream of a simpler life. The surprising end to her unfinished tale haunted me for days. Did she finally find some happiness in accepting her place in history? Did she discover how to clutch the worst of her desires while yet hanging on to a shred of sweet memory? Would her friend the historical microphone ever come back to hear her thoughts?

The work is written in a style that reminds me some oral epic overheard on a long bus ride, where details and names are spun out with dizzying relentlessness. Other authors have used this consciousness streaming mode to tell their tales, but there is something intoxicating here about the cadences and rhythms of the words. Here is a refreshing take on a topic that many of us know little about, written in a form that left me buzzing with thoughts each time I reluctantly put the book down. The translator assists at all turns here, giving the reader an ample introduction to the story and the recent history of Indondesia, but not overwhelming the tale; footnotes are provided where clarification is needed.

All in all, a stunning work.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Surreal Indonesian Tale 29 Oct 2004
By Michael McCright - Published on Amazon.com
Y.B. Mangunwijaya's novel "Durga/Umayi" tells the engaging story of a woman's ongoing personal transformation while the country she lives in moves past colonialism into independence. The book works well on two levels. First, as a literary novel filled with vividly drawn characters--especially Iin (aka Punyo Iin Sulinda Pertiwi Nusamusbida), the not-very-sympathetic protangonist--that contains colorful descriptions of the sometimes surreal situations they find themselves in; it is told in a most unorthodox way. Suggestions made by translator Ward Keeler in his introduction helped greatly in knowing how to approach the text.

Second, "Durga/Umayi" is an excellent introduction to the modern history and culture of Indonesia, particularly for someone who knows little about Southeast Asia. Again, Dr. Keeler's introduction and footnotes are an invaluable aid.

Mangunwijaya's narrative style and the surreal nature of his novel were a bit challenging at first, but after a few pages it became an engaging read. "Durga/Umayi" is a fascinating story told with great wit and empathy, and well worth reading.
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