Books on GIF #2 — 'Beauty is a Wound' by Eka Kurniawan


Books on GIF is a review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This week's book is 'Beauty is a Wound,' by Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan.

Beauty is a Wound

The novel traces the harrowing history of modern Indonesia through Dewi Ayu, a woman forced into prostitution by Japanese invaders during World War II, and several generations of her family as they contend with the end of Dutch colonialism, war, Indonesian independence, communist purges and other horrors. 

I flew through this book like:

It reads like a fairy tale, and Kurniawan uses just enough magical realism to be interesting (like Murakami's 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle'), while keeping the narrative tight (unlike Murakami's '1Q84').

Dewi Ayu, her daughters and her granddaughters (as well has her mother and grandmother) suffer many misfortunes over the years at the hands of men, including death and sexual violence.

The latter of these was used so much I was like: Enough.

'Beauty' is meant ironically, it's the name for Dewi Ayu's one ugly child, but female beauty is also portrayed as the provocation for her family's misfortune. Consider this passage:


The book is a downer.

But it's also a complex, powerful and unusual book readers who don't need tidy or happy endings might enjoy.

'Beauty is a Wound' (Cantik ita luka) was originally published in 2002. It was translated into English in 2015 and published by New Directions Books.

What's Next? Thanks to everyone who wrote in with feedback over the past week. I'll work on incorporating it moving forward. I'm reading 'My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante and hope to have it finished by next Sunday's newsletter.

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