Man Tiger

Eka Kurniawan

translated from the Indonesian by Labodalih Sembiring
Verso 2015 [2004]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2018
Margio, a young man living in a small town on the southern coast of Java, has a female white tiger inside him. This tiger, though it is central to the killing with which Man Tiger begins and ends, otherwise remains quiescent, and the novel is not magical realist but grittily realistic. It tells the story of Margio and his family — his father Komar bin Syueb and mother Nurhaeni, but also his sister Mameh and the short-lived (only just named) Marian. This story is intertwined with that of the better-off family next door, the womanising artist Anwar Sadat and his three wayward daughters.

Man Tiger ends where it begins, and in between jumps backwards and forwards around the family history. This is skilfully done and is never confusing, despite the lack of any formal structure supporting the shifts. It helps that the basic story is relatively simple and the focus stays on the central characters. There are some lovely vignettes of other figures, and glimpses into the history of the town and its patterns of land tenure and its social divisions, but they remain as background. Margio's family is poor and lives on the edge of destitution, but that is not its central problem.

Man Tiger is quite a dark novel, quite shockingly so in places: it chronicles the descent of a marriage into domestic violence and rape, the aimlessness of disaffected youth, and the shattering of young love. And it hardly ends with a rosy-looking future. But its mood manages to be much more upbeat than that would suggest: it highlights moments of joy, of life lived and simple pleasures enjoyed. I found it hard to put down; it is one of the most memorable novels I have read for quite some time.

Note: Man Tiger was published as Lelaki Harimau in 2004. This translation includes a brief introduction by Benedict Anderson on Kurniawan's background (he did a PhD thesis on Pramoedya Ananta Toer) and works.

February 2018

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%T Man Tiger
%A Kurniawan, Eka
%M Indonesian
%F Sembiring, Labodalih
%I Verso
%D 2015 [2004]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781781688595
%P 172pp