Friday, August 31, 2012

Germinal


[conclusion in English is at the bottom of this post]

Germinal adalah buku ketiga belas dari dua puluh novel dalam seri Rougon-Macquart karya Émile Zola. Bersetting di kota daerah pertambangan di Prancis pada akhir abad ke 19, di mana industri sedang mengalami kelesuan. Yang paling merasakan dampaknya (seperti biasa) adalah para pekerja pertambangan yang setiap hari harus bekerja keras di lubang-lubang kecil ratusan meter di bawah permukaan tanah untuk menambang batu bara; dengan resiko kehilangan nyawa setiap saat, demi mendapatkan upah yang sangat minim untuk sekedar dapat melanjutkan hidup dari hari ke hari.

Étienne Lantier tiba di distrik Montsou, pengangguran yang sedang mencari pekerjaan untuk menyambung hidup. Ia tiba di pertambangan Voureux, berkenalan dengan keluarga penambang bernama Maheu, yang kebetulan sedang membutuhkan seorang pekerja. Jadilah Étienne si pendatang baru dari kota lain, seorang pria muda yang lumayan tampan, suka membaca dan berpendidikan, menjadi salah satu penambang di situ. Lewat mata Étienne kita diajak melihat betapa kerasnya pekerjaan mereka, betapa penuh bahaya, dan betapa tidak manusiawinya perusahaan pertambangan itu memperkerjakan mereka.

Kemiskinan dapat terlihat di mana-mana, yang akhirnya menjalar pada kemerosotan moral keluarga penambang. Dengan upah yang pas-pasan mereka mempertaruhkan nyawa, dan seringkali karena kesalahan kecil mereka, upah yang sedikit itupun harus dipotong. Étienne mulai merasakan ketidakadilan di sana, dan mulai timbul dorongan untuk membuat perubahan. Ia mulai belajar dari beberapa buku, termasuk dari pelopor serikat buruh yang memperjuangan nasib pekerja di Paris. Bisa ditebak, Étienne mulai mempengaruhi para penambang dengan ide-ide perlawanan terhadap perusahaan untuk mendapatkan hak mereka. Sedikit demi sedikit, lewat rapat-rapat dan orasi-orasi, Étienne mengumpulkan partisan.

Kemudian momentum itu tiba, perusahaan memberlakukan peraturan baru, yang pada akhirnya menurunkan upah yang mereka terima. Upah yang sudah tak cukup itu harus kembali dikurangi. Maka mendidihlah kemarahan mereka, dan dengan segera mereka memutuskan untuk mengadakan demonstrasi dengan Étienne sebagai pemimpin mereka. Demonstrasi ini segera menyebar hingga hampir seluruh pertambangan harus berhenti berproduksi. Akankah mereka berhasil mencapai tujuan mereka, agar perusahaan makin memperhatikan kesejahteraan mereka, sementara perusahaan dan pemegang saham pun terkena imbas kelesuan dunia industri? Akankah yang lemah akhirnya menang?

Meski tampaknya novel ini dipenuhi ide-ide sosialisme, namun Zola berhasil meramunya dengan cantik. Selain Étienne, ada keluarga Maheu yang menjadi pusat cerita, belum lagi para penghuni kompleks pertambangan itu. Di sini kita seolah menyaksikan sendiri suka-duka mereka semua, bukan hanya soal pekerjaan, namun juga tentang cinta, keluarga, dendam, harapan, amarah, dan semua kompleksitas yang terajut dalam benang kehidupan manusia, dengan kemiskinan sebagai awal dari segalanya. Lewat Germinal kita bisa menyadari bagaimana kebejatan, nafsu membunuh dan kriminalitas biasanya bermula dari kemiskinan dan ketidakadilan. Sementara kita mengutuk tindak anarkisme dalam sebuah demonstrasi, lewat Germinal paling tidak kita tahu bagaimana kemarahan yang lama terpendam, dari generasi ke generasi, akan meledak hebat pada suatu saat, bak gunung berapi yang telah bertahun-tahun tidur, padahal selama itu sedang menggodok magma di perutnya, untuk suatu saat memuntahkannya dengan penuh kekuatan. Salahkah mereka? Atau siapakah yang sebenarnya bersalah?

Germinal menggabungkan ide Darwinisme (yang kuat akan memakan yang lemah) dengan sosialisme, menghentak dalam penggambaran dashyatnya kekuatan ‘yang lemah’ ketika mereka menggalang persatuan, serta dahsyatnya kemiskinan dalam merenggut hidup manusia. Kekuatan itu lalu dilembutkan Zola dengan metafora-metafora cantik, juga kisah cinta yang menyesakkan dada dalam thriller drama penyelematan di area tambang. Dan gabungan dari semuanya membuat Germinal sebuah kisah yang selalu relevan hingga kapanpun, bagi siapapun. Tak heran Germinal masuk (dan ia lebih dari layak untuk masuk kategori ini) dalam 1001 Books To Read Before You Die di urutan ke-824, karena memang, entah kapan, anda HARUS membaca buku yang dahsyat ini sebelum anda mati!

Lima bintang untuk Germinal!

Judul: Germinal [in English]
Penulis: Émile Zola
Penerbit: Wordsworth Classics
Terbit: 2007
Tebal: 478 p.



Conclusion:

Germinal is my third book of Zola, and I can say that it already becomes one of my favorites. Germinal is not only a story about the classic fight between workers and company, the poor and the have, it is also about the agony of poor working class. Germinal was written from Étienne Lantier’s (Gervaise’ son in L’Assommoir) point of view. He was an engine man came to a coal mining town Montsou to find a job. From his eyes, Zola took us to watch the sorrows of coal miners who worked hard under poor conditions for very small wages which could hardly support their poor lives. And for generations this condition has never changed; and they seemed to just accept it; to be overpowered by the bourgeoisie and the industrial machines called capitalism.

No matter how hard we might struggle, we probably wouldn’t change anything. The best is to try and live honestly in the place in which the good God has put us.” ~Maheude, p. 86

Until Étienne—a quite educated young man—appeared from nowhere, mingled with the settlemen, and little by little affected their way of thinking. They soon put him into their lead, with a dream to dethrone the wealth and to regain their freedom and rights. The question was, what was the best method to carry it; anarchism? Long term evolution? Or strikes?

Germinal was a combination of humanity, Darwinism and socialism, packed beautifully with metaphors and romance. This is the third Zola’s I’ve read so far, and compared to Therese Raquin and L’Assommoir (sorry, the reviews are still in Bahasa Indonesia). Germinal was less distressing and less striking. Yes, Zola still described poverty, hunger and moral degradation brutally to the most extremes, yet he still slipped a hope, a bigger hope for a better future in the end. Germinal was only the beginning, the seeds sowing of workers’ battle against the oppression of capitalism. Germinal would show the world that there is a possibility for the weak to fight the strong. It only took time and refinement, and one day the seeds that were now germinating would harvest perfectly and change the earth.

What interested me the most is the metaphors Zola used throughout this story. First of all, the way he described the surroundings in the mine from the eyes of the newcomer Étienne. Zola often used the terms of animal’s digestion in describing the mine pit.

And the Voureux, at the bottom of its hole, in contractions those of an evil beast, continued to grind away, breathing with a heavier and slower respiration, appearing troubled by its painful digestion of human flesh.

 “The shaft swallowed men by mouthfuls of twenty or thirty, and with so easy a gulp that it seemed not to feel them go down.

I only think, that it is the way Zola described capitalism which swallowed people and crushed them in poverty just like a monster digested human flesh; and what a beautiful metaphor they are indeed!

Zola also closed the story in a very beautiful and touching way. The rescue drama in the tumbling pit near the end of the story was really breathtaking, but approaching the end it was also warming my heart with love. And the final ending was superb! I love the final quote which brought a new hope for a better future, and look how Zola crafted it with nature’s elements of a new spring for the world, the most beautiful metaphor from this book.

Five stars (obviously) for Germinal, which have just become my new favorite!

On The 361st Anniversary of Robinson Crusoe’s Journey…


In Daniel Defoe’s best book, Robinson Crusoe started his journey on 1st September 1651….

... and in an ill hour, God knows, on the first of September, 1651, I went on board a ship bound for London. Never any young adventurer's misfortunes, I believe, began sooner or continued longer than mine.



It means, tomorrow would be the 361st anniversary of that journey. Robinson Crusoe has been on my TBR pile since…perhaps the last one year. I own an Indonesian translation copy, and have put this book into my The Classics Club list. So, when I knew that o (Délaissé blog) will read this book and asking whether her followers might join her (it’s kind of informal read along without deadline, only we must start on 1st September), I promptly decided to join in.

Although I have been engaged with hosting the Gone With the Wind read along, I feel I’d need a book to go along with GWTW. I don’t think I’d be able to stuck on those >1400 pages for the whole month (and followed by another month). Robinson Crusoe might have been a perfect choice. So....who wants to join me?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bhima on Mahabharata

I think, besides Arjuna—who was always the celebritiy :)—Bhima is one of the most famous characters from the ancient Indian mythology: Mahabharata. Bhima was the number two of Pandavas, he was born from the same mother as Arjuna, Kunthi; however his father was Vayu (god of the wind). Bhima was the biggest among the brothers (actually he was more like a giant), with a rough and straight manner. He always carry a cudgel as his weapon, which fits his enormous body.

Though he was tender hearted and polite, Bhima did not have the elegant manner of a prince like Arjuna or Yudhisthira. When others sat at the palace hall, Bhima would choose to stand outside the room. He could never adapt with the formality in the palace, and actually was more fit with the lower classes people. Bhima was also an honest, straightforward and trustful person. He was quite an impulsive man, acting rather from his instinct than his consideration. With his enormous energy and his skill, Bhima would challenge everyone who insulted him or people he loved, almost without much thinking. One of his characters that I don’t like.

I suspect that Bhima had actually some passionate feelings for Draupadi—his sister in law, wife of Yudhisthira. When Draupadi was humiliated by Kauravas, Bhima seemed to be quite broken hearted. It was Bhima who—I noticed—responded to it with his gesture, while the husband and the others kept silenced and seemed to be resigned to their defeat. When Draupadi at their exile in the forest would like to have flowers to do her hair, it was Bhima who volunteered to search it. Can you imagine that Bhima, the invincible man who usually been seen with his cudgel roamed in the dark forest to pick flowers? But Bhima did not consider that as something ridiculous, he just wanted to please Draupadi’s heart, to show that he cared for her, because he could feel the humiliation she had suffered terribly.

I think, in his enormous muscles, there laid a tender heart of a man….


Monday, August 27, 2012

Germinal - A Classic Challenge August: Quote


The August prompt for A Classic Challenge is so far the one I like most! It’s the simplest and most exciting of all :)

Rather than a questions this month's prompt is to share a memorable

Quote

... or a few of them from what you're currently reading. Try to select one that are not so well-known but, of course, if you can't help yourself share it too!

I have just finished reading Germinal by Émile Zola, and  LOVE it so much! This time it’s not only distressing, but Zola slipped a hope for a better world at the end of the novel. It reflected on the ending—and I found myself read this quote over and over again, always feels warm after that. And I also enjoyed Zola’s beautiful metaphors here….



Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth.” ~p. 478 (closing quote).



Don’t you just love it?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Arjuna on Mahabharata: Character Thursday (25)

Arjuna in Indonesian folklore style

Of all the characters in the ancient Indian mythology Mahabharata, Arjuna was always my favorite. Arjuna is the third of the Pandavas, and is one of the family’s protectors besides Bhima. From the graphic novel version I read, he is very handsome, the most handsome of the brothers, with well built body, the type that easily attracted women. I also believe he has a polite and elegant manner, a good personality to whom everyone enjoys his conversation. Arjuna is the son of Kunti with Indra (the lord of the heavens for sons), so he is a demigod, like all Pandavas.

In swordsmanship, Arjuna is most leading than all his brothers and of the Kauravas. He is perhaps a knight who has the highest skill among the universe. One day the heaven (or where the gods lived) was attacked by a strong and wicked enemy, and it is Arjuna who helped the gods to beat the enemy. For that, Arjuna was allowed to stay for few days in the heaven. From there he could be regarded as gods dear son, a human being whom the gods always protect. Well taught by Kunti, Arjuna—like all Pandavas—has a tender and noble heart, always eager to help others who are weaker and in need.

Woman is always his weakness. I reckoned that he at least married twice in the version I read, but in the original version he also married Draupadi, a woman he won at a competition whom he must share with his four brothers as Kunti’s request. His biggest ‘sin’ was when he was, at his young age, meditating in a cave in a dark forest. At that time a young queen was having a journey, and has been attacked by the forest villains. She ran away from her guards deeper in the forest and arrived at the cave where she—in her astonishment—found a handsome knight who was in his meditation. Out of terrible fear, she disturbed Arjuna’s meditation by her sobs and gentle touch that suddenly turned the young man on. He did not know that she was a queen, he thought she was just a beautiful girl in fright, and decided to seduce her.



Arjuna agreed to help her on one condition, that she must do whatever he asked in return of the protection. The frightful queen agreed without much consideration, and Arjuna killed all the attackers. Arjuna who was already burnt with desire, despite the fact that the woman is a married woman and even a queen, kept seducing her to a degree of almost became a rape. The queen who was cornered, and in order to protect her pureness, threw herself down a cliff and would have died if her god mother have not helped her. And this is what I like from him, Arjuna deeply regretted his big mistake, and was at once confessed his sin in front of his brothers after he returned home. He was also willing to take all the consequences when the woman’s husband (a King) challenged him for duel, and was ready to die to compensate his deed. I always like men (or women) who made mistakes (for all human being must have mistakes in their life) but brave enough to confess it and to take all the consequences. That made Arjuna a real gentleman.

Arjuna was also a man with high persistency and discipline that made him good in meditating (that’s I guess what made him such a strong and skillful knight). When Pandavas were at trouble, he was instructed by Krishna to take a meditation to ask gods for invincible weapon which he would need to protect the Pandavas.

Arjuna (left) with Krishna in Kurukshetra war


Arjuna has always respected his big brothers, especially Yudhisthira who was too weak as a leader and who was incapable of making decisions. At a crucial time when Krishna asked the Pandavas to demand the return of their kingdom from Kauravas, it was Arjuna—together with Bhima—who finally made the decision, while Yudhisthira could not make it.

Although it was not pictured in this graphic novel, I think (and I read about this in later series of Pandavas stories) Arjuna must have swollen with pride from his handsome appearance and being the best knight of the universe, despite of his efforts of being humble. I mean, he seemed to be quite humble in this epic, but I think it only makes sense that a man whom everyone regarded as the highest, must have this quality.

Note
I picked Arjuna illustrations from the graphic novel I read, it is illustrated in Indonesian culture, so the fashion must not reflect the original appearance of Indian men on 500 BCs.



That is my Character Thursday of this week, an analysis of book character of my choice, who is yours?... Just put your post URL in the linky below. Do you like to join us in discussing characters from books you read? See the details of Character Thursday first.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Favorite Classics (Classics Club Meme August)



This is the first monthly meme for The Classics Club (yes, we have our own meme, and it only makes classics reading for the next five years becomes more fun!). Actually topic of this month is quite simple, favorite classics, however I find it difficult to pick only ONE favorite. I have a lot of favorites, and have managed to narrow the list to four, but could never decide which one I love the most. So, here are my favorite classics until now… (it could change now and then!)

The Curtain by Agatha Christie



Agatha Christie’s were the first adult novel I read when I was in junior high school. Before that my readings were of Enid Blyton’s or Alfred Hitchcock’s adventure novels. Then someday I found “After The Funeral” in school library, and was suddenly intrigued to read a murder case. That was my first ‘love’ with Agatha Christie. After that, every time my parents took me to bookstore and let me choose one novel to buy, I always picked Agatha Christie’s. Agatha Christie has opened my eyes for the first time that life is not black or white as in children tales, where the good people do good deeds and bad ones do evil things. No, in true life, good ordinary people can commit a murder because of many reasons, not because they were born evil. I love almost all of Hercule Poirot’s series and several other stories with no detective (And Then There Were None), but my most favorite is always The Curtain. I have read The Curtain for several times, and still cried every time at the end. The Curtain is not only our farewell to Poirot, but it made me realize that in life we cannot win every battle, that sometimes the evil must win, and what we can do is only trying to minimize the damage as best as we can. Just as Poirot did.


To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee



To Kill A Mockingbird was among the first classics I have read when I was an adult, and it was one of the reason I am now delving into classics works [and join The Classics Club :) ]. This book is not only entertaining, it’s also touching. I have read To Kill A Mockingbird few times, and would re-read it again for The Classics Club. A book that is entertaining is a good book. A book contains high moral value or deeply touch you is a great book. But a book which can entertain and deeply touch you at the same time is the greatest book! To Kill A Mockingbird is within the last one, which I would recommend to everyone over and over again.

Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas



When I was a child (I think my readings at that time was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Herge’s Tintin), my dad bought me a big-thick book contained of three stories, Florence Nightingale, The Three Musketeers and another story which I forgot. It was kind of novel with many illustrations, meant for young readers. I was so fond of that book, that I remember read it again and again, particularly The Three Musketeers which I read most often. I was so amazed with the story, to the musketeers’ spirit and friendship (every time they gathered their sword tips and yelled ‘all for one and one for all!’), and to the royal nuances throughout the story (the illustrations helped my imagination a lot). In short, I have fell in love with it right then. And then, around two years ago I re-read The Three Musketeers again (now the complete novel, translated to Bahasa Indonesia). It’s a completely different experience this time, and I found myself fell deeper in love with it. Finally I completed my thirst of Dumas’ Three Musketeers series by reading The Man In The Iron Mask and Twenty Years After. Then I found a new favorite…Twenty Years After! This is the best part of the series, where the four devoted friends had their reunion after twenty years separation. Twenty Years After have more actions than Three Musketeers, and in this part their friendship were hardly tried. I got to know more about each personal character through this novel, and the emotion remains with me long after I finished it.


L’Assommoir by Emile Zola



What can I say? After the first Zola’s I’ve read last year (Therese Raquin), I fell in love with his writing. Reading Zola is not at all fun, but his books (I’ve read two so far, and am reading the third) always trouble my soul. So far I liked L’Assommoir better than Therese Raquin, but as I am reading Germinal right now, my favorite could still change :)

That was for books of my favorites, what’s yours?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mahabharata (2): An Indian Epic Mythology


This is the second part of Mahabharata, one of the longest epic mythology in the world, depicted a rivalry between two families: Pandavas and Kauravas, which would cause one of the greatest wars in Indian ancient mythology. I read the graphic novel version, retold by one of the greatest Indonesian illustrators, and it was illustrated in Indonesian folklore. In the first part we have learned about Pandavas and Kauravas ancestors, how they were born and brought up by the elders. We have got to know how Kauravas always had envy towards Pandavas, which had begun from their mother Gandhari. In the end of part one we knew that the Kauravas—especially Duryodana—decided to take revenge to their cousins. This part two began with an invitation from King Duryodana to the Pandavas to return the visit to Hastinapura palace.

Without any prejudices, Yudhisthira as King of Indraprashta along with the Pandavas, Kunti—their mother, and Draupadi arrived at Hastinapura, and welcomed by Kauravas with all hospitality. The elders, Bhishma, Dhritarashtra and Vidura happily watched their children lived as a big happy family. Little did they know that behind all the hospitalities, Kauravas—helped by their uncle Shakuni—has an evil plan to take their revenge. Until then I always see Yudhisthira as a perfect human being with all his nobleness quality, however in this part two, Yushisthira’s weakness was revealed: he was a severe gambler! Shakuni knew this, and set a trap for Pandavas through a dice game. Of course, it seemed at first like a fun game, while they let Yudhisthira won huge pile of gold coins.

Actually I sensed that his brothers at first disagreed with Yudhisthira’s decision to play the game, however they were taught by their mother to always respect their elder brother (the King), so they just sat down and take a wait-and-see attitude. However, winning after winning had affected them all, so that they finally even supported Yudhisthira to raise the bet using all the money he had won. At that crucial time, when the air of greediness had enveloped everyone, Shakuni silently replaced the dice with a false one (though I can never imagine how this particular dice could mechanically serve his evil purpose). And now, with the false dice, Pandavas lost the game, coin after coin that they had won previously have moved to Kauravas’ hands. And finally without any money left, Duryodana challenged poor Yudhisthira to bet on their Kingdom, Indraprashta! This has become absurd, I could not understand how wise people like Pandavas could agree thing like that. From this scene, I had learned when I was first read Mahabharata as a child, that greediness is one of men’s biggest sin, that it is difficult to reject a fortune when it seems so close to reach.

Of course Pandavas finally lost, not only their Kingdom, but also their freedom, for now they were not princes any longer, they were just slaves. But the worst part has not yet come because Draupadi had become one of the objects of the bet, and now that they have lost, Durshasana (Duryodana’s second brother) dragged the poor Draupadi, then began to disrobe her in public because Duryodana wanted to see her naked. Fortunately the gods saw this and prevented Draupadi from being humiliated through the help of Dharma (the god, Yudhisthira’s father). Despite of Durshasana’s effort to disrobe Draupadi, the cloth had never come to end. Finally Durshasana gave up, leaving Draupadi with her body still covered, but her soul was wounded by the biggest humiliation a woman can take.

The scene of Draupadi humiliated


It’s interesting to see how the Pandavas reacted to Draupadi’s humiliation. You will think that Yudhisthira would be enraged by his wife’s humiliation, but surprisingly, he was just as calm as a lamb! Actually almost all the Pandavas just watched the humiliation in silence because they were slaves now. How ridiculous it was! I’m glad that at least Bhima, although he was a slave too, turned away from the scene that hurt his feeling. At least he showed that he was agitated by the scene, not as passive as the husband! After I reread Mahabharata as an adult, I begin to think that Bhima had perhaps a kind of affection for Draupadi. Despite of his rough manner, Bhima showed tenderness to Draupadi. He always stood by to protect her, and was willing to do anything for her, even if it was only to search for flowers for Draupadi’s hair; something I had never seen in Yudhisthira.

It concerned me too that the elders—Bhima and Vidura especially—who supposed to maintain the peace between their children, failed to see the evil plan Kauravas had set all those times. They were blinded by Kauravas kindness and hospitality, which astonished me. Vidura at least must have seen it, must have suspected it, for he once had detected Kauravas evil plan to murder Pandavas and saved them (see part one). How could he now think that Kauravas had treated Pandavas as their true brother? Or have they been blinded by the comfort of living they got from the Kauravas? With Dhritarashtra I could understand, I think deep in his heart he have always wanted his own sons to protect Hastinapura throne. But ironically, after Duryodana became a King, Dhritarashtra did not have authority towards his sons, he even feared of them (there were hundred of them anyway!), that he could not defend Pandavas at the end. Tragically, Bhishma and Vidura did not have the authority also to guide them; Duryodana trusted Shakuni more than anyone else in the world.

Anyway, it was finally decided that Pandavas should be exiled to a forest for twelve years and during the thirteenth year they must live in undercover and must not be found by Kauravas, or otherwise they must through another twelve years exile. The Pandavas and Draupadi lived their exile in patience; they got through every sorrows and obstacles together in silence. Along the thirteen years their friends never left them, especially Krishna who had been their worthy advisor and true friend they can put their trust. It was Krishna too who instructed Arjuna to meditate to gods to get weapons. As a result of his meditation (he was the best in meditation among men), Syiva granted Pasopati, and Indra granted Pancaroba.

There are a lot of things happened during Pandavas’ exile, it seems that the exile was to purify their soul and strengthen their characters to prepare them for the big war to come. For the gods have already known that the Kurukshetra war must happen in the future between Pandavas and Kauravas, and as Vyasa said, it was not from Pandavas part that the war must take place, it was from Kauravas’. From Hanuman (Bhima’s brother from Vayu) Pandavas learned that the gods could have helped them to punish Kauravas and released them from the great sorrow if they have wanted it, however Pandavas must keep getting through all the hard times, with honesty and wisdom. And isn’t that how men should regard their life too? We often asked God why all these bad things should continuously happen? Can’t God do something with His almighty power to destroy the evils? But it was God wish for men must get through all the sorrows and hard times during their life to prepare them, to purify them for eternal life. That was one deep reflection that I found in Mahabharata which make it valuable, the wisdoms of life.

There was also a wise quote from Sthuna, a giant who exchanged sex with Shikhandi. Shikhandi was born as a female, however gods has planned her to carry the oath of Amba to end the life of Bhishma (you must read about this in part one). When she has grown up, gods instructed her to go to a wise giant called Sthuna and they prayed to gods together to exchange sex. Sthuna became a woman, and Srikandhi became a man. Sthuna’s King thought it was stupid of him to let the sex exchange happened, for “women are weak creatures who often being the cause of wars between men who fight for them”. However Sthuna stood for women, saying that it was not women’s fault, it was men who were greedy and cannot control their passion; that they enjoyed killing each other. Human being should live their life in what God have given them; and they must accept it with pure heart. What a lesson!

From Dharma (the god of wisdom, Yudhisthira’s father) we also got another lessons:
1. The enemy that is most difficult to beat is passion.
2. The worst human being is he who likes to slander others.
3. The best human being is he who accepts God’s will.
4. The illness without cure is avariciousness.
5. The perfect human being is he who always cautious towards the nature even before he was born.

One irony that justified the evil of Kauravas and the kindness of Pandavas took place in the forest during the exile. The Kauravas got a ridiculous idea to see the sorrows of Pandavas while they would show off their richness by having a party in the middle of the forest darkness (very stupid, eh?). While they were drunk, a group of evil forest creatures attacked them mercilessly. When Pandavas heard the noise and realized that the Kauravas were attacked, they came to help fighting the creatures and released the Kauravas. They did all this in silence, because they knew they were obliged to help others who were in need, even if it was their enemy who have unfairly caused their sorrows for twelve years! What a beautiful lesson for us to love others, including our enemies.

And finally the last year of their exile came, Pandavas must go in disguise. They all served the Virata kingdom, Yudhisthira as a historian, Draupadi as a maid servant, Arjuna as an arts and dancing teacher—I can’t imagine him, the best swordsman in the universe must disguise as a coquettish man :). Nakula and Sadeva would be horsemen, while Bhima would serve as a butcher. Really, I think Bhima’s disguise was the weakest because he always fit the humble life of the Sudras (the lowest level in Indian society). This period of disguising was quite comical and entertaining….

In short they could get through the one year period of disguising safely. Now it was time to ask Kauravas to give Indraprashta back to them as they have successfully served the exile. It was Krishna who volunteered to be Pandavas’ ambassador. Here again I see the weak personality of Yudhisthira. He was a King, and it was he who should take the initiative to ask for his rights. But no, when Krishna asked him what he would do next, he said that he would be pleased to take anything that Duryodana would give them, even if it’s only the half of the kingdom. What?? Have you lost your mind? After all they did to you, and that was because of YOUR mistake that your wife and brothers should take the sorrows! And now you just want to wait for Kauravas kindness? Oh…how I want to slap his passive face!! And don’t be surprised if Arjuna and Bhima had not the courage to contradict their elder brother. It was finally Draupadi who ‘slapped’ them all with what she said. Yes! It was Draupadi who suffered the most, and it was—ironically—a woman who was braver than all the best knights in the kingdom, who finally opened their eyes! What Kauravas did to them was beyond any sense, and yet they did all their wish in patience, but now it is time to ask for their rights, they must fight now, once and for all, they must not beg again for their kindness, because Pandavas had the same right as Pandu’s sons.

Krishna had the same idea too, but he must half push them to make their mind. Here, again, Yudhisthira still could not make his mind, he moved the obligation of making decision to Bhima and Arjuna. And fortunately this time, both of them firmly stated that they will ask for their rights, and would fight for it if it was needed. Whew…finally! With that decision, Krishna met with Kauravas as Pandavas’ ambassador. Here you would feel the tension, because, as Vyasa had predicted earlier, it was Kauravas’ decision that would make the war must take place. The Kauravas, despite of their promise, refused to return Indraprashta to Pandavas, and with that the war was inevitable! To describe Kauravas stubbornness, Krishna—burned with rage—suddenly transformed into a huge giant (this is the sign of Vishnu when he was in severe anger), that need Dharma to calm him down before he crushed Hastinapura by himself. And so this is the end of Mahabharata, the Kurukshetra war would be depicted in the next sequel Bharatayuda.

From this mythology we knew that from the beginning, greediness was always the cause of human disputes. They killed each others because they were never satisfied of what they had, because they wanted more. All the sorrows that happened in life were because men could not control themselves. Mahabharata was told and retold beautifully for centuries, and the lessons and values taught us of the most essential aspects in life.

Five of five stars for Mahabharata and the beautiful illustration by R.A. Kosasih, Indonesian senior illustrator who has just passed away last month.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Algernon Moncrieff on The Importance of Being Earnest


Digital Art / Drawings / Illustrations / 
Conceptual ©2012 ~mbeau.com
Algernon is the most complex character in this play. In a way he shared a similarity to his friend Jack Worthing (in creating an imaginary character to hide himself in), however for the rest, he was completely different to Jack. Algernon was a dandy young man—who I think was similar to Oscar Wilde himself (and I can’t think but to see Wilde’s presence in Algy!). Jack described him as ‘over-dressed’ and ‘always feels hungry’. Algernon’s passion in food was ridiculous in this play, that he could eat all cucumber sandwiches that were supposed to be served for his aunt, and had to tell lie to his aunt that there have been no cucumbers available in the market! And the scene of him had a fight for muffins with Jack…oh..that was so….funny!!

Algernon was a selfish, indifferent, immoral and cynical man. Like Jack, he too had an imaginary character called Bunbury, which he used every time he needed to avoid some events he disliked. However, unlike Jack, Algernon was so irresponsible and indifferent, that he stole Ernest’s (second identity of Jack) identity for his own interest, without slightest care to what that would have affected Jack. Algernon was also snob, his vanity of fashion and education was perhaps the perfect picture of Victorian society at that time (Wilde’s critics?).

What made him more similar to Wilde (which I also found in The Picture of Dorian Gray’s Lord Henry) was the nonsense and paradoxes he often said along the play.

“You never talk anything but nonsense.” ~Jack.



Other similarity with Wilde’s other work, Algernon was immoral and has unromantic and cynical (sometimes rather absurd) idea about love, relationship and (especially) marriage.

“Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude towards life.” ~Gwendolen.

“It is very romantic to be in love, but there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. The very essence of romance is uncertainty” ~Algernon

In short, Algernon was a man who was never serious, funny yes, but irresponsible and very selfish. Algernon lived for the pleasures, not for life itself; a kind of character I hate the most!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mahabharata (1): an Indian Epic-Mythology


If you are familiar with Greek mythology, Iliad and Odyssey from Homer, Mahabharata is an Indian mythology which is ten times longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined into one book. This ancient epic tales was predicted to be written around the year of 500 BC by a monk called Vyasa. It’s a kind of family saga, the Pandavas and Kauravas. I read the graphic novel version, re-told by one of the greatest illustrator in Indonesia: R.A. Kosasih (recently passed away). The most interesting thing of this graphic novel is that Kosasih put the Indian mythology into Indonesian folklore nuances, from the clothes and the names they called each other, that when I first read it as a child, I have always thought that Mahabharata was an Indonesian tale! Apart from the cultural aspects, Mahabharata was a beautiful epic about love, brotherhood, sacrifice, greediness and revenge.

Like Greek mythology, there were alliances between gods and human. The gods always monitor and control every thing happened on earth from their place “up there”. When men were in danger or sorrow, they could meditate and called the gods to help them with their maneuver. When men hated each other, they could spell a curse towards another, and when the gods approved, the curse would be affected right at that moment.

This graphic novel were divided into two volumes, the first one depicted the ancestors of Pandavas and Kauravas. Mahabharata was the early setting of one of the greatest wars in epics between the two families: Pandava and Kaurava; here we learned about their ancestors and the seeds of hatred that would turn into war. The war itself was told in Bharatayudha. 

It all began with a kingdom named Hastinapura, which was ruled by King Shantanu. One day, the lonely king went hunting in a forest and met a very beautiful girl whom he fell in love with. The girl was actually the Ganga goddess. They were married and had a son named Devavrata before the Ganga goddess finally returned to heaven. Devavrata grown up as a courageous, wise, strong, handsome, and smart young man (he was half god and half man anyway). He loved his father very much, but noticed that his father was not happy recently and finally got very ill. He asked him why, and King Shantanu told his son that one day he had met a beautiful girl named Satyavati—a daughter of a fisherman—whom he has fallen in love with. He could not marry her because Satyavati had had an oath that she would only marry a King, and that their son must heir the throne and become the future king. As Shantanu has made Devavrata his successor, he knew he could never marry the woman he loved.

Satyavaty was actually a princess from a kingdom, but has been put into an exile because of a strange and humiliating illness. She married a monk and had a son who was called Vyasa. That was how she had that oath. Devavrata, being a devoted son, promised that he would release his right of the throne so that his father could marry the woman he loved. But what about his future children, what if they demand their rights?, asked the dying father. And then Devavrata made an oath that he would take a lifelong celibacy so that the throne would always be safe. The gods heard and admired the great sacrifice Devavrata has made for his father’s sake, and gave him a new name: Bhishma. King Shantanu then married Satyavati and had two sons: Chitrangada and Vichitravirya.

Chitrangada—the future king—died suddenly in a very young age, left Vicitravirya who was not as good as his died brother in swordsmanship. At that time there was a competition held by a King to find a husband for his three princesses. Satyavati wanted a wife for King Vicitravirya, but knowing that he was not a good swordsman, Bhishma volunteered to fight in the name of the King. Shortly, Bhishma won the three princesses: Amba (the eldest), Ambika and Ambalika. Amba felt she was too old for Hastinapura’s King, and has fallen in love with Bhishma instead. She asked Bhishma to marry her, but Bhishma—who has sworn not to marry—refused her. Amba kept approaching Bhishma, and the later, in order perhaps to fight his own passion accidentally shot Amba with his arrow. In her last breath, Amba begged the gods that her soul would transformed in the body of a woman who would take Bhishma’s life in the future. And the gods approved it.

A sudden death came to King Vicitravirya, leaving the throne of Hastinapura without a successor. In desperation, Satyavati called for his son, Vyasa who agreed “to father children” with Ambika and Ambalika (this was a common practice in India when a man cannot have child). Vyasa was pictured as a man with terrifying looks, so when he came to Ambika, the girl kept shutting her eyes. Later on she gave birth to a blind child (because she kept shutting her eyes during the process). Ambalika has been warned by Vyasa not to shut her eyes like Ambika, however the disgust made her face grew pale during the process, and her child born with pale skin. Unsatisfied with the result, Satyavati asked his son to father one more child with one of the princesses. However, both Ambika and Ambalika did not want to have another session with Vyasa, so they arranged a maid to replace them. From her, born the third child. They were named: Dhritarashtra (the blind), Pandu (the pale skin), and Vidura.

Pandu—despite the fact that he was a second son—was made King because a blind man cannot rule a Kingdom. When they were grown up, Pandu went to a competition to get a wife, Dhritarashtra and Vidura came with him. Pandu, helped by Dhritarashtra, won the competition and brought home Princess Kunti. However there are two other contestants who were not satisfied with the result; they challenged Pandu to do another fights, and if they were lost, they would give their sisters to Pandu. In short, instead of one wife, Pandu brought home three princesses: Kunti, Madri and Gandhari. Satyavati instructed Pandu to share one of them with Dhritarashtra while Vidura refused to have a wife. Then came the selection day, and of course the three princesses were terrified they would be chosen by the blind young man instead of the handsome Pandu. The three secretly prayed to their gods to help them, however in a strange coincidence, Gandhari was chosen by Dhritarashtra.

One day Pandu went hunting to the forest and shot a pair of deer who were making love. The deer turned out to be a monk who transformed himself and his wife to a pair of deer to have privacy when they made love. The monk then cursed Pandu that he won’t be able to have sex for the rest of his life, for whenever he had passion to his wives, he would soon die. Pandu retired to be a monk together with his wives, and left the throne to Dhritarashtra while he was away. Now being a queen, Gandhari was never satisfied because she knew when Pandu returned, she won’t be queen anymore. She prayed to gods to give her a lot of children to protect the throne. The gods answered her prayers, Gandhari was soon pregnant.

However, instead of a baby, Gandhari gave birth to a piece of flesh when she was walking at the garden one night. She kicked the flesh in disgust, and the flesh divided itself to many pieces. The god instructed Gandhari to cover the fleshes with leaves, and went to sleep. In the morning, the fleshes had turned into babies, one hundred babies! Now Gandhari has her protector for Hastinapura throne, and the one hundred children were called the Kaurava. The news came to Kunti and Madri, they too wanted to have their own children, however as Pandu was unable to give them child, they prayed to their gods. The gods fulfilled their wishes, Kunti was given three sons, one from Dharma (the god of justice) and born Yudhisthira, one from Vayu (the god of the wind) and born Bhima, and one from Indra (the lord of the heaves for sons) and got Arjuna. Madri gave birth to twins: Nakula and Sahadeva from Ashwini (the twin gods). Te fifth of them were called the Pandava. However, Pandu could not keep his passion towards Madri, and when they made love, Pandu died.

Lived in the same palace, Pandavas and Kauravas grew up as different characters. While Pandavas became good and polite young men, Kauravas who were being spoiled by their mother has become villain and greedy. Dhritarashtra made Yudhisthira a crown prince, but he kept the ambition to made his own son Duryodana (the eldest of Kauravas) to be the king of Hastinapura (he might have been persuaded by the greedy Gandhari). Kauravas, helped by their evil uncle Shakuni (brother of Gandhari) made a plan to get rid of Pandavas in a fire accident. Luckily for Pandavas and their mother Kunthi, their wise uncle Vidura has made protection for them by instructing his men to dig a tunnel beneath their palace. Saved from the fire accident, the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura only to find that Duryodana has been made King. The elders had a meeting, and decided that the Pandavas should build their own kingdom which was called Indraprashta. When they were on pilgrimage to return from fire accident, Arjuna has won Draupadi as a wife. Here there are ambiguities, in the version I read, Arjuna refused to marry Draupadi and gave Draupadi for his brother Yudhisthira, who finally agreed to marry her. However, in the original version, Kunthi asked Arjuna to share Draupadi with all his brothers. Draupadi finally married all five of Pandavas (this too, a common practice in India, a woman can have more than one husband).

Draupadi & her five husbands-the Pandavas


One day when Indraprashta has become a big kingdom, they invited the Kauravas to the palace. There Duryodana grew envious of the elegant palace of Pandavas. It was added with a humiliating accident where Duryodana splashed in the water when he thought it was glossy floor. The Kauravas came home with revenge in their head, and since then they could not think other than a perfect plot to humiliate the Pandavas.

It was long, I know! :) And this is just PART ONE of Mahabharata, there will be part two! I write the entire plot here to memorize them myself. From the story, I just realized that the four elements of life: love, hatred, greediness and revenge are always the plot of most stories of human lives. And those were also the most causes of wars. I read Mahabharata as I was a child, and I re-read it many times after that. One thing I just realized as adult reader (and after I can browse the internet) that Vyasa is believed to be the same person as Krishna Dvaipayana. It was not mentioned here in the graphic novel I read; Krishna here was the King of Dwaraka, an advisor to Pandavas, whose main concern was to keep the whole kingdom in peace. He was invincible in fighting, because he was the incarnation of Vishnu god. To imagine that Krishna and Vyasa was the same person would be interesting. I think I should keep reading the Part two (and perhaps continue on to Bharatayudha) to learn more about this.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Literary Classics Challenge - Friday Progress (7)

Woman Reading - anythinggauche.com

After two months of Victorian reading (June & July) I felt quite exhausted; so for August I have picked books that I really want to read, and most of them are not classics. However I still put two classics in my schedule. One of them is from Albanian’s author: Ismail Kadare. I haven’t read his works before, and this time I read the translated version (Bahasa Indonesia) of The Palace of Dreams. It’s a bit magical realism, and the main theme is the dictatorship of Ottoman Empire in 19th century who controlled the dreams of its people. Although the theme is quite interesting, I did not find it very entertaining. Here’s my review.

Yesterday I started Germinal by Emile Zola. Zola is one of my favorite authors, and I found the first few pages were beautifully written, that I have a feeling I’ll enjoy this book. Next week will be a long holiday here in Indonesia (the moslem will celebrate Idul Fitri), so from 17th to 22nd I will stay at home, and hopefully I can read as much as I want to. Along with Germinal, I have planned to re-read ancient Indian epic: Mahabharata. I have the re-told version in graphic novels in my collection (two hardcover books), it’s in Bahasa Indonesia and illustrated in Indonesian folklore by a famous Indonesian comics illustrator. I have read this several times when I was a kid, and it will be nice to re-read it as an adult reader. I still remember that there are many good moral value in it, which I think worth to read for many times.

So…how about you? How is your classics reading for this week? And what is your plan for next week?

The Palace of Dreams (Istana Mimpi)


[conclusion is at the bottom of this post]

Setiap orang yang menguasai daerah kegelapan dalam diri manusia akan memiliki kekuatan yang luar biasa.”

‘Daerah kegelapan’ di quote tersebut dapat kita asumsikan sebagai mimpi. Maka setiap orang (atau institusi) yang menguasai mimpi manusia, akan memiliki kekuatan luar biasa. Dalam kisah realism-magis karya Ismail Kadare ini, kekaisaran Ottoman yang meraja di abad 19 memiliki institusi yang disebut Istana Mimpi atau Tabir Sarrail. Di Tabir Sarrail, mimpi dari seluruh masyarakat se-kekhalifahan dikumpulkan, disalin, dipilah-pilah, kemudian ditafsirkan. Dari mimpi-mimpi itulah Sultan atau pemimpin kekhalifahan mengetahui kondisi kekhalifahan yang dipimpinnya; mirip dengan dinas inteligen dalam suatu negara.

Mark-Alem adalah seorang pemuda pemalu dan penggugup yang kebetulan merupakan anggota keluarga Quprili—keluarga paling berpengaruh yang banyak menempatkan anggotanya dalam jabatan-jabatan tinggi di kekhalifahan. Antara Sultan dan keluarga Quprili selalu ada permusuhan, gara-gara kecemburuan Sultan terhadap keluarga Quprili yang kisahnya sering disebut-sebut dalam epik di Albania maupun Serbia, sementara tak pernah ada orang menciptakan epik tentang sang Sultan sendiri. Dalam kondisi ini, Mark-Alem tiba-tiba mendapati dirinya diterima bekerja di Tabir Sarrail sebagai staf bagian Penyortiran. Mark yang tak tahu apa-apa, selalu kebingungan dari awal bekerja, tak tahu apa yang harus dikerjakannya, tiba-tiba saja karirnya melesat dengan cepatnya. Meski ia perlahan-lahan menyadari bahwa keberadaannya di Tabir Sarrail adalah karena kepentingan politik keluarganya, ia tak tahu apa yang mereka harapkan darinya. Hingga terjadilah sebuah malapetaka bagi keluarga Quprili, dan saat itulah Mark menyadari betapa besar kekuasaan sebuah mimpi terhadap jatuh bangunnya sebuah kekuasaan!

Buku ini berkisah tentang kediktatoran, di mana sebuah institusi dapat mengontrol bukan hanya kehidupan rakyatnya, namun hingga hal pribadi seperti mimpi. Aku masih saja bertanya-tanya, bagaimana kekhalifahan dapat ‘memperdaya’ rakyatnya untuk mengirimkan mimpi-mimpi mereka? Tak sadarkah mereka bahwa itu melanggar hak asasi mereka? Apalagi pasti sudah banyak kasus para pemimpi yang mimpinya bersifat ‘berbahaya’ hilang lenyap tanpa pernah kembali ke rumahnya setelah diinterogasi di Tabir Sarrail. Pertanyaan kedua, bagaimana penguasa dapat memastikan bahwa mimpi yang dikisahkan itu adalah mimpi sebenarnya yang dialami pemimpi? Atau justru, bagaimana mereka dapat memastikan bahwa mimpi itu bukan rekayasa salah satu pihak untuk menjatuhkan mereka?

Kalau demikian halnya, pertanyaan terbesarnya: Sebenarnya siapa yang menguasai siapa? Kekhalifahan menguasai rakyat karena mengontrol mimpi mereka? Ataukah mimpi-mimpi milik rakyat itu yang justru menguasai kekhalifahan, karena Sultan begitu percaya (dan takut)nya pada mimpi-mimpi itu? Ironisnya, lewat Istana Mimpi Sultan berhasil menyerang keluarga Quprili, namun justru lewat Istana Mimpi pula kurasa keluarga ini—lewat Mark-Alem yang akhirnya menjadi Kepala Istana Mimpi—akan berbalik mengalahkan sang Sultan. Sang Sultan boleh saja tetap penguasa kekhalifahan, namun bukankah siapa yang menguasai mimpi berarti memiliki kekuatan luar biasa?

Sebuah penggambaran metafora yang indah dari Ismail Kadare tentang kediktatoran yang menguasai pikiran, namun aku merasa kisah ini lemah sebagai fiksi karena ceritanya melompat begitu cepat, tanpa keterangan apakah dari scene sebelumnya ke scene berikut berjarak hari, bulan atau tahun. Mark-Alem mulai bekerja setelah lulus kuliah, namun di akhir kisah ia tiba-tiba berusia 28 tahun, jadi apakah rentang waktu antara ia mulai masuk Tabir Sarrail hingga menduduki posisi puncak memakan waktu bertahun-tahun? Di sini Ismail Kadare kurang teliti dalam merakit cerita, mungkin justru dengan sedikit melebarkan plot, beliau akan menghasilkan cerita yang lebih berkesan.

Tiga mimpi untuk Istana Mimpi!

Judul: Istana Mimpi (judul asli: The Palace of Dreams)
Penulis: Ismail Kadare
Penerjemah: Fahmy Yamani
Editor: Adi Toha
Penerbit: Serambi Cerita Utama
Terbit: Juni 2012
Tebal: 274 hlm

Conclusion:

The Palace of Dreams is a magic-realism story by Ismail Kadare about how the dictatorship of Ottoman Kingdom in 19th century oppressed its people by controlling their dreams. Everyone must send details of their dreams to be noted, sorted and interpreted by an institution called The Palace of Dreams or Tabir Sarrail, which was run by the Sovereign. These dreams are powerful tools for the Sovereign to keep updated about every movement among the Kingdom; some kind of intelligence agencies.

The protagonist is Mark-Alem, a young man who was just graduated and found a job inside the Palace of Dreams; this story was told from his point of view. Later on he realized that he was placed there by his powerful family—the Quprili—who had the biggest influence in the whole Kingdom, that even the Sovereign was terrified of them. Mark worked at the Selection department, and one day he found a specific dream. He did not know what to do with it or how to interpret it. Little did he know that that particular dream would cause a huge blow for someone he loved; if only he had known what that dream was about when he was in charge of it! What had happened to the Quprilis only confirmed that who holds people’s dream, has the biggest power on his hands. And poor Mark-Alem, despite of his career leap from the Selection department to the highest level in Tabir Sarrail, was only a helpless pawn in a power war between Quprili family and the Sovereign.

This is quite an interesting story but there are few things that I did not really get it. Firstly, how the Kingdom forced people to voluntarily send every personal dream they had? Didn’t it occur to the people that that practice was against their human rights? They could have lied that they rarely had a dream; who could proof it? Secondly, how did the Sovereign make sure that the dreams received by Tabir Sarrail were not fake dreams written by whomever against them? If they were so affected by the dreams, that the Sovereign used them to make his decisions, how absurd it was! Didn’t it mean that the dreams have controlled the Sovereign rather than the other way?

The story’s idea is OK, but I think Kadare should have widened the plot to make it flow more naturally. There are no signs of time setting in this book, I did not know whether Mark-Alem has been working for weeks or month or years before he was promoted to a higher level. He started his career straight after his graduation, however he was already twenty eight when the story ended. Did it mean all of these had happened for years? I don’t know…

Three stars for The Palace of Dream, the first Albanian literature I have ever read! [I read the Indonesian translation edition]

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jack Worthing on The Importance of Being Earnest

The main protagonist in this Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is Jack Worthing. I see Jack as a respectable young man with a polite manner. Although he was only found and adopted by a rich Mr. Cardew, he had grown up in an honorable family. Of course, Jack also adhered to Victorian values at that time, which were respectable and responsible. Jack has become a guardian to Mr. Cardew’s granddaughter, and I think, has been an honorable example for his community. These are others thought about Jack:

“Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is so serious that I think he cannot be quite well.” ~Cecily.

“I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility.” ~Miss Prism.

 Although he has tried to fulfill the Victorian society expectations (about honor and respectability), Jack felt the responsible is unbearable that he needed something to balance his life. He hid himself in his fictional young brother Ernest Worthing’s role every time he needs to run away. On the contrary to his own qualities, Jack invented an irresponsible character of Ernest, who was pictured as evil by Cecily. This was the only negative side I found in Jack. I knew it was wrong, it was hypocrite, yet I could understand how distressing it might be for Jack to always be perfectly serious and responsible. Sometimes people need to be careless, to do whatever he wants, and don’t have to think about the consequences.

[source]


Other than that, Jack was a patient man. I can’t imagine how he could befriend with the reckless and immoral Algernon without hating him or loosing his temper—well he might have lost his temper once, but it did not bring him to break his friendship with Algy. I also found Jack to be a tender hearted man, for when he—in front of Algernon—said bad things upon Lady Bracknell who has insulted him, he apologized to Algy because he did not want to hurt his feelings. 

Later when Gwendolen (his girlfriend) and Cecily knew the truth about the never-existed Ernest, Jack gallantly admitted that he had deceived them, that he never had any brother, and brave enough to take the risks (of losing Gwendolen’s love). And despite of his eagerness to take Gwendolen to become his wife, Jack spoke the truth about his rather humiliating history (being found in a handbag in a public place) to Lady Bracknell. He never felt ashamed of his life, and has the courage to take any risks, to be able to marry the girl he loved. That was the quality of a man which I always love!

If I can choose between the original Jack and Ernest, I would pick Jack. The real Jack who did not like the glamorous of Victorian social life like theatre or clubs; Jack who—although sometimes told lies (hey…don’t we all too?)—still had the courage to speak the truth when valuable and important things in life were the concerns.   


Monday, August 6, 2012

Classics Authors of August

Meski agak terlambat, aku tetap mau mengajak anda berkenalan dengan para penulis klasik yang lahir pada bulan Agustus. Di antara mereka banyak nama-nama besar seperti Leo Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant dan Jorge Luis Borges. Mari simak kehidupan mereka, baik sebagai penulis maupun sebagai pribadi….

Herman Melville

Penulis Amerika bernama Herman Melville ini lahir pada 1 Agustus 1819 di New York City. Beliau adalah seorang novelis, selain penyair, penulis esai dan cerita pendek. Meski salah satu novelnya yang paling terkenal adalah Moby-Dick, namun Typee adalah novel pertamanya yang laris. Ayah Melville adalah seorang pedagang, namun setelah dua bisnisnya mundur lalu bangkrut, tak lama kemudian sang ayah meninggal, meninggalkan kemiskinan bagi keluarganya saat Melville berusia 12 tahun. Melville masuk akademi dan menyambi bekerja sebagai anak buah kapal. Pada 1841 Melville kembali berlayar selama 18 bulan ke Pasifik Selatan, dan belakangan mengaku hidupnya ‘dimulai’ pada saat itu. Kemungkinan banyak detail perjalanan itu ia tuangkan ke novel Moby-Dick yang berkisah tentang ikan paus.

Tahun 1847 Melville menikah, kemudian selama 13 tahun sibuk mengurus pertaniannya sambil terus menulis. Di pertanian itu pula ia berteman dengan penulis klasik besar lainnya Nathaniel Hawthore, yang tinggal tak jauh dari situ. Bahkan Melville mendedikasikan Moby-Dick untuk Hawthorne. Namun buku Melville yang berjudul Pierre tidak mendapat sambutan baik, malah ia dicap sebagai ‘gila’ di surat kabar. Di akhir perjalanan karirnya, keadaan keuangan Melville bertambah parah, dan ketika itu perkawinannya goyah, ditambah dengan kematian putranya yang menembak diri sendiri (kemungkinan kecelakaan).

Guy de Maupassant

Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant, atau dikenal dengan Guy de Maupassant terkenal sebagai penulis Prancis abad ke 19. Ia dianggap sebagai ‘Bapak’ penulisan cerita pendek modern. Karya-karyanya kebanyakan diwarnai nuansa Franco-Prussian War, dan salah satu karya terbesarnya adalah Ball of Fat selain Mademoiselle Fifi. Beliau lahir 5 Agustus 1850 dari keluarga borjuis kaya yang tinggal di chateau (rumah besar bak istana ala Prancis). Ketika Maupassant berusia 11 tahun, orangtuanya bercerai, dan ia tinggal bersama ibunya yang suka membaca karya klasik terutama Shakespeare. Maka tak heran jika pada usia 13 tahun Maupassant dikirim ke seminari untuk belajar klasik.

Pada usia 18 tahun Maupassant sempat menyelamatkan  Algernon Charles Swinburne, seorang penyair terkenal, yang nyaris tenggelam. Ia juga kemudian berkenalan dengan Gustave Flaubert, penulis klasik terkenal asal Prancis juga, yang kemudian mengambilnya menjadi anak angkat sekaligus semacam pelindung literatur Maupassant, dan membimbingnya memasuki dunia literasi. Di rumah Flaubert lah Maupassant sempat berjumpa dengan Émile Zola dan Ivan Turgenev. Flaubert memuji Ball of Fat sebagai "a masterpiece that will endure". Gabungan antara bakat menulis dan kemampuan bisnis dengan cepat membuat Maupassant kaya. Salah satu novelnya yang paling terkenal adalah Bel-Ami. Di akhir hidupnya Maupassant mengalami ketakutan akan kematian dan ingin menyendiri. Ia mencoba bunuh diri namun gagal, dan akhirnya menjadi salah satu penghuni paling terkenal sebuah rumah sakit jiwa di Paris, di mana Maupasant akhirnya menghembuskan napas terakhirnya.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Lahir pada 8 Agustus 1896 di Washington D.C., Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings kelak dikenal sebagai penulis klasik wanita yang memperoleh penghargaan Pulitzer pada tahun 1939 lewat karyanya The Yearling (diterjemahkan Gramedia). Rawlings sudah menunjukkan minat menulis sejak usia 6 tahun, ia sering mengirimkan tulisannya ke surat kabar di bagian anak-anak hingga usia 16 tahun. Setelah menikah, Rawlings membeli tanah pertanian di Cross Creek, Florida dari warisan yang ia terima dari ibunya, dan lokasi itu kelak menjadi setting novel-novelnya yang terkenal. Karyanya yang lain adalah Cross Creek dan The Sojourner.

Pada tahun 1943 Rawlings dituntut oleh sahabatnya atas tuduhan merusak privasi karena menulis tentang putra sang sahabat di kisah Jacob’s Ladder. Setelah kasus itu selesai Rawlings meninggalkan Cross Creek selamanya dan tak pernah lagi menulis tentang wilayah itu. Dengan uang hasil penjualan The Yearling, Rawlings akhirnya membeli cottage di tepi pantai di St. Agustine, di mana ia tinggal bersama suami keduanya, dan akhirnya meningal dunia pada 1953.

Sir Walter Scott

Walter Scott adalah penulis asal Skotlandia yang lahir pada 15 Agustus 1771. Beliau banyak menulis novel sejarah, naskah drama dan puisi, dan menjadi penulis Inggris pertama yang merasakan ketenaran yang mendunia di saat hidupnya. Ivanhoe dan Rob Roy adalah dua di antara novel-novel terkenalnya. Scott lahir di Edinburgh, dan pada usia 2 tahun berhasil bertahan dari penyakit polio, yang setelahnya membuatnya sedikit cacat pada kaki. Untuk menyembuhkan cacatnya, Scott dikirim ke desa tempat kakeknya tinggal. Di sana neneknya mengajari Scott membaca dongeng dan legenda, yang kelak menjadi dasar karyanya. Pada usia 12 tahun Scott sudah mulai belajar klasik di universitas.

Sejak muda Scott selalu tertarik pada dongeng-dongeng Skotlandia yang dituturkan secara verbal (story teller). Ia terobsesi untuk mengumpulan dongeng-dongeng itu. Di usia 25 tahun ia mulai menulis secara professional, kemudian menerbitkan tiga set kumpulan dongeng koleksinya. Inilah pertanda awal minatnya terhadap sejarah Skotlandia. Tahun 1825 terjadi krisis perbankan, dan perusahaan penerbitan ke mana Scott menginvestasikan uangnya jatuh bangkrut, dan Scott pun jatuh miskin. Ak mau mengaku bangkrut, Scott menjaminkan rumahnya pada kreditor dan bertekad akan terus menulis novel serta biografi Napoleon Bonaparte untuk keluar dari hutang, namun sayang kesehatannya memburuk, dan akhirnya  meninggal. Untunglah, novel-novelnya terjual terus hingga akhirnya mampu melunasi seluruh hutangnya.

Edith Nesbit

Terkenal dengan nama E. Nesbit, Edith Nesbit—kemudian menjadi Edith Bland setelah menikah—adalah penulis 60 buku anak-anak dan puisi asal Inggris. Lahir tanggal 15 August 1858, Nesbit menikah pada usia 22 tahun dengan Hubert Bland saat hamil tujuh bulan, pernikahan yang kemudian terbukti membawa petaka. Bland ketahuan berselingkuh dan menghamili sahabat Nesbit dan seorang wanita lain yang mengaku tunangan Bland. Nesbit bertengkar hebat dengan suaminya namun tetap bersedia mengadopsi kedua bayi wanita itu.

Beberapa novel terkenalnya antara lain The Railway Children (diterjemahkan Gramedia) didedikasikan untuk putra tertuanya, serta The Enchanted Castle (diterjemahkan Atria). Nesbit disebut-sebut sebagai penulis modern pertama untuk buku anak-anak, yang mengubah tradisi literasi anak warisan dari Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald dan Kenneth Graham. Menggabungkan kisah anak-anak kontemporer yang bersetting dunia nyata dengan obyek-obyek sihir, Nesbit berpengaruh dalam era penulis kisah anak-anak modern setelahnya seperti Diana Wynne Jones, J. K. Rowling dan C. S. Lewis.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges, atau yang biasa kita kenal sebagai Jorge Luis Borges lahir pada 24 Agustus 1899 di Buenos Aires, Argentina. Borges adalah penulis cerita pendek, esai dan puisi serta penerjemah. Beberapa karyanya yang terkenal adalah Ficciones, Labyrinths dan The Aleph, yang merupakan komplilasi cerita pendek yang dihubungkan dengan tema serupa, antara lain mimpi, labirin, perpustakaan, agama, Tuhan, dsb. Karyanya masuk ke genre literatur filosofis maupun fantasi. Pada usia 9 tahun Borges sudah menerjemahkan The Happy Prince karya Oscar Wilde ke bahasa Spanyol.

Pada thn. 1938 ayah Borges, yang amat dekat dengannya, meninggal dunia dan mendatangkan tragedi baginya. Natal tahun itu Borges mengalami cedera kepala parah yang nyaris merenggut nyawanya. Setelah peristiwa itu, Borges mulai menerapkan gaya baru dalam menulis yang kelak membuatnya terkenal. Ketika penglihatannya mulai kabur sebelum berusia 30 tahun dan Borges tak mampu menulis lagi, ia menapaki karir baru sebagai ‘public lecturer’. Pada akhir thn 1950 Borges akhirnya buta total, kemudian meninggal dunia karena kanker liver pada 1986.

Mary Shelley

30 Agustus 1797 merupakan tanggal kelahiran seorang penulis wanita asal Inggris yang bernama lengkap Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, namun yang kelak lebih dikenal sebagai Mary Shelley. Selain sebagai penulis novel (novel paling terkenalnya adalah kisah gothic Frankenstein—diterjemahkan Gramedia), Shelley juga penulis cerita pendek, naskah drama, esai, biografi dan kisah perjalanan. Shelley dibesarkan oleh ayahnya, dan saat berusia 17 tahun ia memiliki hubungan romantic dengan pengikut politik ayahnya—Percy Bisshe Shelley—yang sudah menikah. Shelley mengandung bayi Percy, namun sayangnya dalam dua tahun pasangan ini menghadapi pengucilan, belitan hutang dan kematian bayi prematur mereka. Mereka baru menikah thn 1816 setelah istri Percy bunuh diri.

Ide menulis Franskenstein tiba saat pasangan baru ini menghabiskan musim panas di Swiss. Lalu pada 1822 Percy mati tenggelam ketika perahu yang dinaikinya tenggelam dalam badai. Setelah itu Shelley memutuskan untuk mengabdikan hidup untuk membesarkan putra semata wayang mereka dan menekuni penulisan profesional. Sayangnya di usia 53 Shelley harus menghadapi ajal akibat tumor otak yang selama decade terakhir hidupnya terus menggerogotinya.

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