Friday, February 6, 2015

Entrok is not a happy story

Just before picking up Okky Madasari's Entrok, I was feeling a little bit weary. I have finished nine books in 2015, and I had been finding it hard to connect to the characters.

I finished The Name Of This Book Is Secret, and I found the characters too simple. Catch-22 disarmed me to involuntary chuckles, but overall it was too thick with non-sequiturs. I'm not even sure the story is being told chronologically. Meanwhile, Eugenides' stealthy sleuthing in the Attolia series was too crafty for me to associate myself with.

So I was only half-heartedly picking up Entrok. I braced myself by thinking, "At least I'll have one fewer book in my to-read pile after this."


Entrok started with a daughter telling her mother of a much-awaited happy news. Despite the happy news, though, you get the sense that something really bad had happened and the daughter blamed herself for her mother's senility. The contradicting atmosphere of her regret piqued my interest enough to keep me continue reading.

And I can't put it down until I finished it two hours later.

The story itself is told alternatingly between the mother (Marni), and the daughter (Rahayu).  With a story that encompasses 40 years of their lives, it provides ample food for thought with its diverse topics. The topic ranges from marital infidelity and aspiration of moving socially upward, to clashes of theological beliefs and fighting injustice masquerading as march of progress as peddled by an authoritarian regime. Such amazing breadth, without coming across as condescending or preachy.

It was very easy to relate to. With no effort at all Marni made me think of my own mother. Not only because she poured all her efforts to her daughter in hope that her daughter would have had a better living, but also how she was hurt when her only daughter misunderstood her belief.

Aku membenci Ibu. Dia orang berdosa.
Aku membenci Ibu. Kata orang, dia memelihara tuyul.
Aku membenci Ibu, karena dia menyembah leluhur.
Aku malu, Ibu.
"Yang kuasa itu Gusti Allah, Bu. Bukan Mbah Ibu Bumi," kataku dengan suara keras[.]
"Sampai setua ini, sampai punya anak sebesar kamu, Nduk, aku tidak pernah tahu Gusti Allah. Mbah Ibu Bumi yang selalu membantuku. Mbah Ibu Bumi yang memberiku semua ini. Apanya yang salah?"
Dia bilang aku ini dosa. Dia bilang aku ini sirik. Dia bilang aku penyembah leluhur. Lho.. lha wong aku sejak kecil diajari orangtuaku nyembah leluhur kok tidak boleh.[...] Dia bilang hanya Gusti Allah yang boleh disembah. Lha iya, tapi wong aku tahu Gusti Allah ya baru-baru ini saja. Lha gimana mau nyuwun kalau kenal saja belum.

That is why Marni's story resonate especially loudly for me when her belief clashed with her daughter's. I see my mother's likely perspective in her bafflement why her daughter is bent on her new belief while she had had a belief that was good enough. I see myself in Marni, because she faced ostracism from her society for her traditional belief--I can imagine it's the same ostracism society will direct to me for my being in the minority with my lack of belief. Marni is a rich character.

It was also remarkable how topical the struggles she pictured in this book could be. Given that the land conflict Rahayu faced was set in the 1980s, one can only marvel of its similarities with the struggles in Rembang. On a more global level, the same narrative of conflicts wouldn't be out of place in the Arab Spring.

At the end of the story, I learned why Marni was the way she had been in the prelude, and it was a cue to start reading again from the beginning.


Reading Entrok made me felt giddy, conflicted, happy, and dejected at the same time. What a great story! On which sides would I be: Marni's or Rahayu's? Rahayu's or the government's? At least Rahayu in the end got a normal ID card! But life is horribly unfair, if all Marni's hard work in building a fortune amounts to nothing in the end!

With everything that it offers, it felt sacrilegious that I bought Entrok because it was dirt cheap in the bargain bin. IDR 10,000 for a great novel is a definite sacrilege when my dinner at a warteg costs me more than that. And because rating it in goodreads only took 3 seconds, it somehow did not leave me feeling satisfied that I've addressed this sacrilege properly.

So you understand, this review is partly to redeem that.

How else would you redeem yourself for a five-star book?

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