Reinterpreting Andrea Hirata’s Masterpiece

By Thaufan Malaka

Andrea Hirata has written creatively his tetra logy, namely, Laskar Pelangi, Sang Pemimpi, Edensor & Maryamah Karpov and has been successful as bestseller in Indonesia.. Those works smoothly have been accepted by Indonesian people, essentially the lower-classes from underprivileged families, who are looking for inspiration to change their life in Indonesia, and also well-educated middle-classes who want to just read a novel while sipping coffee and hot chocolate in the Starbucks and the like at home and abroad. However, Hirata effect has led to some anxieties in terms of literary criticism in Indonesia that it could damage young generation and bring disgrace to the literary works where integrity, humanism and resistance have become manifesto.

Surely, this issue has been more intensively concerned and discussed among Indonesian literary critics a couple weeks ago and made Hirata as big polemic figure through social and mainstream media. The Polemic was sharpened by Damar through Kompasiana regarding some aspects of Andrea Hirata’s masterpiece especially Laskar Pelangi (the Rainbow Troops) in terms of publication of such works abroad and indirectly questioning his personal integrity and finally made some Indonesian literary critics come again to evaluate its literary quality by looking at Hirata’s maneuvers lately.

For literary critics in Indonesia, the figure of Andrea Hirata looked so arrogant just because of benefiting from the publishing industry. In fact, his literary genre seems slightly linear, inferior, and full of illusion. Based on his tetra logy, it might be only Laskar Pelangi (the Rainbow Troops) has become more remarkably very popular in Indonesia and abroad that promoted the issue of subaltern, marginalized people and poor education. Nevertheless, other sequels are delusion and soap opera story.

Yet, on the one hand Andrea Hirata absolutely has been noted as one of struggling writers in the post-reform Indonesia for some reasons. First, Hirata was able to conquer the market which is for some writers and artists as the great empire, ruthless but generous. Hundreds of writers and artists have been hoping their works being received by the market respectfully but unfortunately their works sink like a stone even they have good quality, so they have to cry and laugh. Well, it is real life where writers propose but the market disposes. Oceans of meaning and social networks are not enough at all.

Secondly, Hirata is the mysterious writer among most people, even in front of conservative writers. He is indeed new comer and beginner. Somebody said “Who is this guy suddenly appear in the front stage of contemporary Indonesian literary scholars today and at the same time, claiming his modern literary genre among conservative critics and scholars as if he is Moses reading the holy book Torah to save his followers from Pharaoh. Where has Hirata been before and how come Hirata learned literary genre and then finally came as a hero “. In this sense, Andrea Hirata, citing Anggun C. Sasmi when she has been commenting one participant of Indonesia X Factor… “It’s really cool and cute”.

Third, the literary senses of such tetra logy. Actually, in terms of the creativity is not so bad even though imperfect absolutely by using highly literary standard. Moreover, regarding his intellectual experiences abroad might make his literary quality remained doubtful under his intellect intervention. For example, Laskar Pelangi has been suspected by Saut Situmorang plagiarizing Japanese Novel, Keisuke Kinoshita 1954. In this case, it’s not reasonable to compare Hirata’s tetra logy with Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s tetralogy although both called tetralogy, especially when Andrea Hirata tried to ignore the existence of Pramudya Ananta Toer by saying no one can write very well in Indonesia during a century. On the other hand, Pram’s masterpiece had been appreciated by many countries without excessive market intervention through promotion and advertisement. In addition, Pram has been imprisoned by tyrant regime in this country and struggling to establish his own publishing called Hastamitra with his friends as ex-
political prisoners in 1980’s. Thus, looking at Pram’s brilliant ideas in Bumi Manusia (this Earth of Mankind), Anak Semua Bangsa (Child of All Nations), Jejak Langkah (Footsteps) and Rumah Kaca (Glass House) is really wonderful, touching and revolutionary.

Fourth, Andrea Hirata works like playing dice in the market capitalism. He throws dice that moves from the issue of poverty, pluralism, to vague cosmopolitanism then let God work alone. Nonetheless, when he wins, he did not even say hello properly and do much with his victory. For many literary critics, Hirata should explain more details his novel genre in terms of literary senses in which they live and love for decades. Unfortunately, it seems to many people that Andrea Hirata has decided to be elitist and popular rather than as literary writer in Indonesia.

Fifth, childish attitudes of Andrea Hirata who wants to sue Damar and other writers criticizing his masterpiece politically. In this regard, Andrea Hirata not only demonstrates the power of capital, but also hurts the literary world where he has been more popular nowadays. As a famous writer, he should show his wisdom and madness, and then provide a beautiful answer through impressive writing responding some criticism. It’s a good tradition so far to avoid some speculation that it’s just a kind of business strategy.

Thaufan Malaka is Lecturer at Communication Department, Andalas University and Master Student in Nagoya University Japan.

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