Saman Letter to Ayu Utami: Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

Yet this same nation justified slavery for more than a century after the rest of the world denounced it as cruel and barbaric. Your description of the Suharto regime is rich enough to allow readers a glimpse into that which they need to know about how much farther we as human beings need to go until true equality and true peace are made manifest. Unfortunately our pace of progress is woefully slow, but you are part of the solution.

It is time to rid the world of the dual scourge that is patriarchy and the exploitation of the poor. Both patriarchy and the exploitation of the poor have the same root cause: abuse of power. In Saman, you show how abuse of power can itself be subverted.

One of the reasons you need to keep writing novels is that you are already making an impact. A good sign is the backlash against your writing, from Indonesians who are threatened by your points-of-view. In "Descriptions of Female Sexuality in Ayu Utami's Saman," Marching points out how some male Indonesian writers cannot stomach a woman who is in control of her own power, her own creativity, and her own descriptions of female sexuality. "Rosihan Anwar has stated that this new trend in women's literature is nothing but 'sastra mesum' (pornographic literature)," (Marching).

Saying that your novel is smut is akin to saying that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has too much violence: it is totally missing the point. Sexuality in Saman is not an end unto itself, although it does allow the main characters to flourish and adds depth to the novel. However, your deft weaving of sexual themes with themes related to economic and political exploitation show how systems of colonialism and systems of patriarchy go hand-in-hand. I should clarify that by colonialism, I refer to the symbolic colonization of impoverished regions of the world now by large multinational corporations. Although globalization has the potential to stimulate economic growth in places like Indonesia, Itoh clearly shows that such growth must be tempered with common sense and policies that reflect social welfare.

The dismissal of Saman as being pornographic literature further proves how deep patriarchy runs through the world. What Rosihan Anwar is so disturbed about is not erotic scenes in a novel but the fact that the patriarchal regime is about to be overthrown. Powerful female figures threaten the old order in the same way that student protests threaten autocratic governments.

Patriarchal readers are bound to blame some external force such as Western imperialism too. And it isn't just men who are victims of the patriarchal mindset. Women have also expressed criticism of Saman because of a discomfort with subverting traditional gender roles and norms. For instance, Marching cites Indonesian author Medy Loekito, who claimed that Saman "depicts a form of Western sexual freedom that is not suitable for Indonesian ethics and morality." The irony is palpable. Loekito does not own Indonesian culture. She has no more right to assert what Indonesian female sexuality is than you or anyone else does.

For this reason, your writing more novels will continue to propel Indonesian literature forward. You can become a catalyst for other young novelists, who need to express their views in as fluid a way as you. You are becoming a pre-eminent force in literature because you tackle social injustice on multiple levels. Thank you for your contributions.

Works Cited

Bodden, Michael H. "Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Fictional Resistance to an Authoritarian State in 1990s Indonesia." Indonesia 68. Oct 1999.

Caslin, Sinead. "Feminism and post-colonialism." The Imperial Archive. Retrieved: http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/imperial/key-concepts/feminism-and-postcolonialism.htm

Itoh, Makoto. "The Japanese Economy Reconsidered." Palgrave, 2000.

Marching, Soe Tjen. "Descriptions of Female Sexuality in Ayu Utami's Saman." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. Feb 1, 2007.

Utami, Ayu. Saman. Equinox, 2005.

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Bodden, Michael H. "Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Fictional Resistance to an Authoritarian State in 1990s Indonesia." Indonesia 68. Oct 1999.

Caslin, Sinead. "Feminism and post-colonialism." The Imperial Archive. Retrieved: http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/imperial/key-concepts/feminism-and-postcolonialism.htm

Itoh, Makoto. "The Japanese Economy Reconsidered." Palgrave, 2000.

Marching, Soe Tjen. "Descriptions of Female Sexuality in Ayu Utami's Saman." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. Feb 1, 2007.

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