Friday 8 March 2019

Indonesia as London Book Fair Market Focus 2019

The London Book Fair is one of the global marketplaces for publishers. This year's fair takes place next week. Each year, the fair chooses one country to be the market focus; this year, that country is Indonesia.

UK-based Monsoon Books publishes books about Asia, and has strong links with publishers in Indonesia. Phillip Tatham, publisher of Monsoon Books, here looks ahead to the Indonesian focus at LBF.

Next Tuesday, London’s Olympia will throw open its doors to an expected 25,000 people from the world of book publishing, hailing from more than 100 countries. Unveiling exiting new titles at this year’s London Book Fair will be around 1,700 exhibitors, and none are more eagerly anticipated than the large contingent from Indonesia, which is London Book Fair’s 2019 Market Focus country.

The goal of the Market Focus is to shine a spotlight on the publishing industry of one country or region and to facilitate more business between the chosen territory and the global publishing community. It is hoped that by participating as Market Focus 2019, Indonesia will showcase its publishers, authors and literary content as well as create commercial and cultural partnerships with publishers from around the world.

Indonesia may have the fourth largest population in the world but the country flies below the radar, particularly in terms of its culture and literary heritage. In comparison to India, where there exists a large body of Indian writing in English, and China, where many works of literature have been translated into English (and many other languages) and published globally, Indonesia does not have the same author recognition, perhaps with the exception of Pramoedya Ananta Toer. It is hoped that global events such as London Book Fair, and Frankfurt Book Fair where Indonesia was guest of honour in 2016, will help to put Indonesian literature on the map.

To that end, twelve Indonesian writers have been sponsored by British Council in partnership with Indonesia’s National Organizing Committee to take part in London Book Fair and in satellite events in London and around the UK. The authors's ages span the generations, and they were chosen to represent the diversity of Indonesia's literary sector, reflecting the multiple regions, religions, and genres of Indonesian culture and society. They will participate in a variety of events, such as panel discussions, readings, book launches and seminars. The writers are: travel writer Agustinus Wibowo, whose book When Journey Takes You Home is soon to be made into a film; award-winning author of adult fiction and children’s books Clara Ng; bestselling novelist (and popular singer-songwriter) Dewi Lestari, whose six-volume Supernova series has been adapted into several hugely popular films; Sulawesi-based Faisal Oddang who participated in two international residency programmes in 2018; novelist and academic Intan Paramaditha, whose literary work explores gender, sexuality, culture and politics; poet, novelist and short story writer Laksmi Pamuntjak, whose second novel, The Birdwoman’s Palate, was published by Amazon Crossing; Leila S. Chudori, whose bestselling first novel, Home, has been translated into six languages; poet, essayist and esteemed cultural critic Nirwan Dewanto, who has twice won Indonesia’s top literary award for poetry;  Norman Erikson Pasaribu, whose first collection of poetry, Sergius Seeks Bacchus, will be published in the UK in March 2019 by Tilted Axis Press; Reda Gaudiamo, whose collections Tentang Kital (About Us) and The Adventures of Na Willa are published in the UK by The Emma Press; Seno Gumira Ajidarma, well known as a consistent advocate for free speech and freedom of expression in Indonesia; and comics artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri, who references everyday urban life in Jakarta.

Satellite events will take place in London and throughout the UK for the duration of London Book Fair. Foyles', a famous British bookshop with a flagship store in central London, will feature an exhibition of Indonesian books in English. London University's School of Oriental and African Studies will hold a discussion on democracy in Indonesia and how it affects authors. The National Poetry Library will host an evening of Indonesian poets. At the British Library, Agustinus Wibowo, Dee Lestari and Seno Gumira Ajidarma will talk about turning their islands of imagination into stories, novels and narratives. Beyond London, Reda Gaudiamo will present her works at Norwich and Norfolk Millennium Library.

There are scores of Indonesia-related events taking place at the book fair itself … but not all of the events involve books. In addition to Indonesia’s national pavilion, this year Indonesia will also host a Spice Café where visitors will be able to sample Indonesian food as well as attend events relating to the country’s cuisine.  Fancy making tumpeng, a cone-shaped yellow rice dish popular in thanksgiving (slamatan) ceremonies? Learn about tea and coffee production in Indonesia over high tea? Or sample Indonesia’s tradition soup broth, soto? The Spice Café is the place to be.

It is hoped that by participating in London, Indonesian publishers and authors will enjoy fruitful meetings with their counterparts in Europe and further afield. Several UK publishers have already published Indonesian authors in advance of the fair and Monsoon Books is proud to announce the publication in June 2019 of two works of fiction by Indonesian authors, which will be ready for viewing at London Book Fair. The two books are: Not a Virgin, by Nuril Basri, and Harvesting the Storm, by John Waromi.

In Not a Virgin, Jakarta teenager Ricky Satria overhears his parents calling him spoilt and discussing how they will send him to live in a pesantren, an Islamic boarding school, to free up a bedroom for his elder brother. Ricky takes umbrage at being called spoilt and decides there and then to enrol himself in a pesantren, both to challenge his parents’ perception of him and to pre-empt his eviction. In this coming-of-age novel, four Indonesian students seek to discover what their future will bring and look for answers to their questions about sexuality, love, religion and drugs. With characters ranging from cross-dressing hairdressers, drag queens and rent boys to fanatic Muslims and mystical martial-arts teachers, the action of this tragicomedy moves between an Islamic boarding school and a gay bar in Jakarta, and in so doing illuminates the mindset and yearnings of a new generation of Indonesians.

John Waromi’s Harvesting the Storm is set in the coastal regions of West Papua in eastern Indonesia. It tells the story of the Ambai people and their relationship with nature through the friendship of four underwater creatures: Andevavait, the amphibious tidepool blenny; Bohurai, the toadfish; Anggereai, the striped crab and Raukahi, the octopus. When the environment is threatened, the harmony of the creatures that inhabit it is also disrupted. Can the Ambai people stay true to their local wisdom and traditional beliefs in the face of destructive and divisive influences, and protect the balance of nature? In this contemporary fable, Papuan author John Waromi, a member of the Ambai tribe, sheds light on the struggle of Papuans to preserve their ancestral traditions and language, revealing the necessity for man to understand his place in creation. He takes us into a coastal ecosystem where humans, animals and plants must co-exist to maintain the harmonious balance of nature. We witness the dreadful threat of dynamite bomb-fishing upon the underwater environment, and its effect upon all living creatures who depend upon it for survival in this remote part of Indonesia.