A way to discover the Indonesian literary world

After promoting Finland in 2014, the Frankfurt Book Fair welcomes Indonesia for the 2015 edition.

Through great Indonesian authors, publishers, booksellers, translators, professionals and visitors we had the possibility to discover the Indonesian book trade along with an entire culture that we often do not know at all. This year, the Book Fair had the honor of welcoming the most popular writers of the archipelago for round-table meetings, conferences, and book signings to foreground their literature to the audience. In this article, we will focus on two guests of honor: Andrea Hirata and Okky Madasari.

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The first one, Andrea Hirata, is well-known in Germany where his books are very famous – his masterpiece, The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi and its sequels), has sold over five million copies all around the world. This autofictional book tells the story of a boy from a poor background who escapes poverty and homelessness in Indonesia to study in France. Like his character, Andrea Hirata studied in La Sorbonne in Paris, where he improved his writing skills. Nowadays, he is considered as a star: he is very popular especially in his native country, where he sold millions of books – but his work is not really known in France. His books have been translated very late (The Rainbow Troops’ French translation was only published in 2014, while the original version was released in 2005) and it was published by Mercure de France which is a somewhat elitist publisher. This may explain why this novel was not very successful despite its evident literary qualities.

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Then, an author less known worldwide but very famous in Indonesia: the young lady Okky Madasari. She is recognized for her literary qualities for she won the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2012 for her third novel, Maryam. This prize is the major and the most celebrated award of Indonesia (more or less equivalent of the Goncourt prize in France) and it consacrated the young female author as one of the stars of the archipelago. Okky Madasari, born in 1984, can be considered as a great representative of the “Generation 2000” in Indonesia for she is only thirty years old and, despite this early age, she is already very famous because her books prove of an astonishing intellectual maturity. For all these reasons, she may represent the future of Indonesian literary world in a community that is getting older. Okky Madasari embodies the “young guard” of Indonesian books.

To put it in a nutshell, these international book fairs and especially Frankfurt are global market places and very famous for the negotiations of authors’ rights. In 2015, it will be the opportunity for these Indonesian guests of honor to improve their renown among the European audience – and for the publishers to sell the rights of these masterpieces. Then, maybe France will seize upon the possibilities to get up to date and propose to the French readers these beautiful novels – in well-written translations and with beautiful covers.

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By Lisa Haller and Camille Conrad

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