An Offering to the Decades of Oppression

The Years of the Voiceless by Okky Madasari
translated by Nurhayat Idriyanto Mohamed
Started reading this while I was traveling to Pangandaran beach, despite it is anything but peaceful.

By a bra is how it all started. In 1950 an illiterate girl named Marni was no longer a little girl. Her breasts were growing. Her single-parent mother didn’t wore a bra, but Tina, her cousin did. She wanted to wear it to hold her breasts yet working with her mother in cassava seller wouldn’t gave them a penny. They had been paid with cassava which only enough to fill their empty stomach day by day. She prayed to her gods to make her rich so she could had many bras she wanted. So she stopped working at the same place her mother did and worked with her friend Teja as a courier where she had to carry someone’s groceries in the market. It was seen as an out of norm for a girl to work on men’s job yet Marni earned some money not only to buy a bra but also started her own business by selling groceries straight to the villagers.

Years after, Marni had a daughter named Rahayu by her marriage with Teja. Came from a highly successful and wealthy family didn’t make Rahayu happy. She knew that her neighbors always bad-mouthing her mother. Studying at school she knew that what her mother was doing was a sin. She was ashamed by one of her mother’s way of earn a living by lending the money to the villagers or vendors at the market with 10% profits. She refused to make the offerings to the ancestors like how her mother did either to ask something or an act of showing gratitude. Unlike her mother, she was literate and practice Islam where she only prayed to one God.

Marni and Rahayu were so different, unless about one thing. They were fighting the same thing: their and people’s human rights. There were people with uniforms from the state, who had power or gun and did whatever they liked. Those people, those soldiers, were always asking for money, for lands, or even for humans, and do whatever they liked in the name of “security”. But they are the ones who spread fears, shed tears and blood among civilian. A poetry by Agnes Török is perfect to illustrate this.

This is my first Okky Madasari’s book I have read, and despite its originally written in my mother tongue, I picked the English translation version. For it helps me to focus on the story rather than writer’s chosen words. Being told by 2 different point of views, one from the mother and the other from her daughter, this story showed us how different generation shaped their mind into how they cope with their own adversities. I love this kind of novel where I could see from various perspectives.

But there’s a thing. I was a little bit reluctant to mention about this since in this age of feminism, some books or movies are no longer potray the women as typical women characters who were exist in the story simply for supporting the men characters’ roles or to add romance-ish elements. For example, in my own opinion, in “The End of Loneliness” by Benedict Wells I felt the female character seemed flat, and here I think happened to be the male ones.

Let’s meet Teja, Marni’s husband who was a lazy man and clueless about earning money and stand for his family, or Kartono the guys who sexually abused his own nephew just because his wife was too stressed to made love with him, and just like in an dystopian novel “Vox” by Christina Dalcher, the lovable man character had a heroic feature, in this case is a handsome arabic man named Amri. It’s not a big deal though since it’s just a thing or two I just realized in the middle of writing this review. Yet reading some newer novels written by women, I could also feel the similar things where some male characters were so streotypical: tried nothing to understand what women were thinking and feeling, or how they were easily fooled and lured into traps. Of course it’s a good thing since now men can also feel what happened to women for decades in any media including books and do something to improve this both for women and men.

In conclusion, I love this book and absolutely going to read other books by the author. Perhaps, I will read her next novel in Bahasa Indonesia or both in English since many of her novels have been translated into the latter.

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