A Global Supernova

Posted on November 10th, 2009 at 12:55 pm by Akhyari


In the mid-1990s, Dewi Lestari — or more simply, Dee — was known as one-third of female musical trio RSD, which stood for its members initials and included fellow singers Rida and Sita. From their debut album, “Antara Kita” (“Between Us”) in 1995, to their final release before breaking up, “1” in 1999, the group enjoyed both critical and commercial success with their brand of harmonious pop. During that period, few were aware of Dewi’s writing background. As a teenager, Dewi wrote short stories and was published in teen magazines such as “Gadis” and “Mode.” It was not until Dewi released her debut novel, “Supernova Satu: Ksatria, Puteri dan Bintang Jatuh” (“Supernova One: The Knight, Princess and Falling Star”) in February 2001, that her fans took notice. “Supernova Satu” became a literary phenomenon. Critics praised Dewi’s style of writing for taking a new approach toward storytelling — one that might have been challenging for non-literary readers. The book sold 12,000 copies in 35 days, and eventually reached sales of 75,000 copies nationally. In 2002, Dewi released the second book in the “Supernova” series, titled “Akar” (“Roots”), and followed that with “PETIR” (“Lighting”) — released in January 2005 — and another novel unrelated to the “Supernova” series, “RECTOVERSO,” in 2008.

Her latest work is “Perahu Kertas” (“Paper Boat”), which is indisputably her most conventional novel to date. It stands in contrast to the “Supernova” series, which was relentless in its complex storytelling and unorthodox wording. “Perahu Kertas” tells the story of two friends, Kugy and Keenan, and their many obstacles, fights and issues, all of which stem from communication problems. Sprinkled throughout are issues such as a parent-child relationship and teenage aspirations, all written in a lighthearted style that makes the book stand out from Dewi’s more challenging, previous works — in both good and bad ways. The main protagonists are lively characters who are quirky yet identifiable. Kugy is a fairy tale-obsessed girl who dreams of one day becoming a writer but has long ago realized that it is an unpromising goal, one that could leave her a struggling artist.

Still, she is unable to completely leave behind her love for writing, and chooses to major in literature at a university in Bandung. Keenan, on the other hand, is a high school graduate who has returned to Indonesia after living in the Netherlands for six years with his grandmother and enrolls to study economics at the same university as Kugy. His return is not without some reluctance; Keenan wanted to stay in the Netherlands to become a professional painter. Through Keenan’s cousin, Eko, and Kugy’s best friend, Noni, the two are eventually introduced to one another. Unbeknownst to both, Kugy and Kenna have admired one another from afar for some time. They fall quickly for each other, but face many obstacles, including the fact that Kugy is already dating a guy named Joshua. The characters’ personalities are clearly defined, but are still open-ended enough to allow for growth throughout the story. However, the issues are presented in a hackneyed manner, with none of the ambiguity or emotional intricacy that Dewi usually excels at. Problems such as the Keenan-Kugy-Joshua love triangle and Keenan giving up his dream are resolved in an all-too-predictable manner. “Perahu Kertas” ends up feeling like a chick-lit or teen novel by its middle chapters. The trials and tribulations preventing Keenan and Kugy from being together feel like annoying speed bumps without any dramatic flair.

Fortunately, Dewi in predictable teen-novel mode is still better than … well, regular teen-novel writers. The last few chapters, when Keenan and Kugy reunite, are conventional and light, but affecting. “Perahu Kertas” suffers under the weight of its author’s reputation as a literary writer. However, although many of its elements are lightweight, as a teen novel, “Perahu Kertas” is an agreeable read with enough character depth and emotional weight to carry it through to the end.

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