Asian studies in Lithuania
Original language: Indonesian
Translated from: English
Authors: Kurniawan, Eka
Translated by: Kelerienė, Vaida
ISBN: 978-609-427-338-4
Published in: Vilnius
Published on: 2018
Publisher: Kitos knygos

“Beauty Is a Wound” is an extraordinary story of a beauty, her family and those around her, full of the author’s volatile imagination. The book not only stands out for its extraordinary style of magical realism, but also for elements of Indonesian history that will broaden a readers’ knowledge of the country.

Devi Aju rose from the grave, where she had been resting for 21 years. Such an unusual and startling beginning of the book immerses the reader in the mysterious world of Indonesia from the very first pages. During her life, Devi Aju gave birth to four daughters: three extraordinary beauties and one terribly ugly. But most of all, she rejoices at the youngest because before her  birth, Devi Aju prayed for the baby to have the worst look possible. And the motto of the novel: “there is no more terrible curse than to give birth to a beautiful girl in the world of men who are more crazy than ruminating dogs” perfectly justifies every action Devi Aju takes in the story. Beauty is not a blessing, even though it is coveted, at the end, it remains desecrated or even cursed. Devi Aju is the most beautiful and coveted prostitute in all of Halimunda. This is where the main action of the story revolves, around the daughters, their beauty, love, suffering and their husbands – sometimes cruel and ruthless, but most of the time, just looking to fulfill their sexual desires.

The story is full of elements of mystical fantasy, although while reading, this aspect can sometimes be forgotten. One moment a woman wakes up from the grave, and the next she tells an interesting but normal love story. In addition to love stories about Devi Aju and her daughters, the book is rich in historical and political elements: Japanese occupiers who came to Indonesia, Dutch colonists, guerrilla wars, Indonesian independence, communist movements, and so on. These political aspects step away from the usual narrative of women and their men, their beauty and passions, and may seem to push the main story to the side. Yet every passage in the book (even the political one) ultimately binds the story just nicely. And the ending of the story goes as it begins, as if reminding the reader that the same world is still here – fantastic and full of mystical details.

Eka Kurniawan is an Indonesian-born writer who has published four novels, and “Beauty Is a Wound” has already received the World Readers’ Award and other memorable awards. The author’s style of magical realism is equated with the work of Gabriel García Márquez and Haruki Murakami, which certainly has similarities to the already discussed “Beauty Is a Wound”.

Initiators of the project: Japan foundation VDU