Lelaki Harimau by Eka Kurniawan

Eka Kurniawan
Lelaki Harimau
Gramedia Pustaka Utama
190 pages

Pada lanskap yang sureal, Margio adalah bocah yang menggiring babi ke dalam perangkap. Namun di sore ketika seharusnya rehat menanti musim perburuan, ia terperosok dalam tragedi pembunuhan paling brutal. Di balik motif-motif yang berhamburan, antara cinta dan pengkhianatan, rasa takut dan berahi, bunga dan darah, ia menyangkal dengan tandas. “Bukan aku yang melakukannya,” ia berkata dan melanjutkan, “Ada harimau di dalam tubuhku.”

“Eka menyajikan perkembangan menarik, dan akan kian kuat jika ia berhasil melebur habis pengaruh para pengilham besar. Lelaki Harimau ini lebih licin dari Cantik Itu Luka.”
— Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka

“Deskripsi perkembangan psikologis para tokoh Lelaki Harimau membuat kita menyadari betapa nilai-nilai moral yang diajarkan dalam kehidupan sehari-hari ternyata terlalu sederhana, tak memadai untuk menilai kehidupan manusia yang penuh liku-liku.”
— Katrin Bandel, Kompas

“Brilliant, tight-knit and frightening village tragedy.”
— Benedict R'O.G Anderson, New Left Review

“Tight, focused and thrilling. Like a good crime novel, Man Tiger (Lelaki Harimau) works best when read in a single sitting, and its propulsive suspense is all the more remarkable because Kurniawan reveals both victim and murderer in the first sentence.”
— Jon Fasman, The New York Times Book Review

“Refreshingly, Kurniawan puts value on literature as entertainment, and his books are certainly that.”
— Deborah Smith, The Guardian

Before I start writing the review for Lelaki Harimau, there are two confessions that I have to make. First, if you read my previous reviews religiously (which, I'm sure, you don't), there is a convention that I follow which is to write my review in the same language with the book that I read. I read Kurniawan's Lelaki Harimau in Indonesian, because even if I sound so sanctimonious and judgmental and hipster and pretentious in my review, trust me, I'm not. I'm not that guy who's extremely snob who only reads anything in English, even if it is written in Indonesian. Second, I decide to pick Kurniawan's works up after he is longlisted in 2016's The Man Booker Prize, and because I don't want to be left behind from the latest trends because pretty much everyone praises Kurniawan's works, and in order to stay hip, I know I have to read this book. And, well, after reading Lelaki Harimau, I decide to jump on Kurniawan's bandwagon. 

But not thoroughly. 

Lelaki Harimau looks undaunting to be honest. It's thin, only 190-ish pages. Well, yeah, the cover may be daunting--with face of a tiger or claw marks--but for a "literature", Lelaki Harimau seems tame. So, that's a reason why I picked Lelaki Harimau first, and not his other books, likeSeperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas or Cantik Itu Luka, which are more thick. I thought I could finish the book in a single-sitting, just like what Jon Fasman suggests in his review. But boy how wrong I was. 

Hands down, Kurniawan is a master at crafting and putting words together. I really enjoy his diction, how he scrupulously chooses his words, matching the words with suitable era and nuance. It makes Lelaki Harimau full of obscure Indonesian words that mostly are heavily influenced by Javanese language. They perfectly build the atmosphere of the book, in a traditional village around 1970s by the Indonesian coastline, when the gap between poor people and rich people creates social imbalance, but uniquely modern and supernatural can live harmoniously. Kurniawan's rich and fluid descriptions, which sometimes can be excessive, clearly depicts the gore and explicit contents of the book in as raw as possible, giving me disturbing image and plethora of emotion that burst out of my mind. Kurniawan courageously describes bloody and brutal killing in the most haunting way and explicitly unveils the intercourse between human body in a tremendous detail. The result is remarkable because his way of describing events feels so genuine and real. 

It's how the story connects that I have the struggle with. Kurniawan chooses to use chronological and reverse-chronological plot alternately, but I feel that the flashback and current events are not interwoven perfectly, making Lelaki Harimau somehow confusing. In 190 pages, Kurniawan explains why Margio kills someone and elaborates the back story of Margio who, Fasman beautifully describes, is both victim and murderer. Lelaki Harimau can be deemed as whydunnit crime story, with a little sprinkle of supernatural. But the reason why Margio kills is explained too long as Kurniawan drags the plot with unnecessary tale of Margio's moving to another town, for example, which only strengthens and proves how miserable Margio's childhood was. Another disappointment from Lelaki Harimau is the ending. After such amazing build up, I clandestinely hope there is mind-blowing twist at the end of the book, but Kurniawan decides to end it simply and neatly, without any twist, frustrating me. 

In conclusion, Lelaki Harimau is different than some of Indonesian classic literature that I have read before, like Mangunwijaya's Burung-Burung Manyar, for example, that makes me cry, even though both books are written beautifully. I have such a high expectation from the book, but Lelaki Harimau can't fulfill it. 

Or maybe, because I can't appreciate "real literature".

Next Post »