Hilary Plum

  • culture October 27, 2015

    On Eka Kurniawan

    When so little of a country’s literature has made its way to us in translation, it’s tempting to read what does appear as “news from elsewhere,” source material to help us understand Indonesia’s history and politics. Yet that would be an injustice to the ambition and seduction of Kurniawan’s novels, the reckoning they enact both with his country’s violent twentieth century and with the form of the contemporary novel.

    This autumn has brought two novels by Eka Kurniawan—a young Indonesian writer, born in 1975—to English-speaking readers. It’s a lucky and too-rare debut for an international writer: having two books appear from different translators and publishers lends an instant diversity to our initial encounter with his work. For many US readers, Kurniawan’s novels may provide their first experience of Indonesian literature. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is perhaps the best-known Indonesian writer here; in an introduction to Man Tiger, Benedict Anderson discusses Kurniawan’s own book on Pramoedya and his complicated

  • culture July 21, 2015

    Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising by Jonathan Littell, translated by Charlotte Mandell

    At least in the US, the very duration of the conflict in Syria, currently in its fifth year, has somehow allowed it to slip from the front page, even as the humanitarian crisis worsens—as I write this, it is estimated that four million refugees have fled the country, and more than seven million are internally displaced.

    “Already,” Jonathan Littell writes, “all this is turning into a story.” So ends Littell’s compilation of notebooks from his time in Homs, in western Syria, reporting for Le Monde on a “brief moment” (January 16 to February 2, 2012) in the ongoing uprising against the Assad regime. Almost immediately after his departure, he notes in an epilogue, many of the activists, opposition forces, and neighborhoods he documents here were “crushed in a bloodbath that, as I write these lines, is still going on.” The phrase “as I write these lines” first appeared in the French edition of the notebooks,