Novel Review: Laut Bercerita (English)

Posted on 23 August, 2018

Title: Laut Bercerita (The Sea Speaks His Name)

Author: Leila S. Chudori

Editor(s): Endah Sulwesi, Christina M. Udiani

Publisher: KPG, 377 pages

ISBN: 978-602-424-694-4

Genre: History Fiction

Rating: 4/5

“Kepada mereka yang dihilangkan dan tetap hidup selamanya”

To them who was taken away yet live in eternity

Opening page

Before diving into the book, there are few facts that we need to keep in mind: the story was inspired by an interview Leila conducted back in 2008 with Nezar Patria, one of many activists who was abducted in 1998 riot. Written by a senior Journalist, Novelist, and Activist, Laut Bercerita tells us a fictionalised tale of Leila’s researches of the forgotten piece of history along with its victims and grieving families.

Laut Bercerita is a tale of tragedy that passed from Biru Laut who first-hand experienced the 98 Riot to those he left behind. The novel divided into two main characters: Biru Laut, an idealist college student and activist and his sister, Asmara Jati, a doctor to be who knew all along about Biru’s forbidden activities along with his organisation/study group. Through Biru, readers get to know their goals, point of view, and idealism. Readers witness what they stand for and how they fight: building their safe house, involved in sneaky anti-government campaigns, to their arguments and finding out who is the spy amongst them. Whilst through Asmara, readers are introduced to the aftermath of the story: grief, despair, uncertainty, helplessness, and hope. Asmara helps us to understand that perhaps death is not the worst punishment and definitely is not an end.

Laut Bercerita jumping right into the heart of the story with its Prologue introducing characters we will soon familiar with. Leila lets us experience the gripping scene of Biru Laut who was facing his own death, Biru Laut’s narration in the first few pages will soon put readers in his shoes. Leila not exposing the storyline for no reason, readers will soon follow Biru’s life from 1991 and come back to the opening scene of his last day. This does not make the story become anti-climax since the story focus is on the humanity and its effects.

The novel itself is built with a balance. Starting light, Leila gives us a generous portion of the novel to get to know Laut Biru and his group through his narrations and daily description. Although the first hundred pages feel rather long with a back and forth plot between Biru’s present days and sneak-peak of what the future might hold for him, it’s Leila’s style of building a bond between readers and her characters.

Asmara Jati is one of three women characters who play important role in Biru’s decisions, there’s Anjani his lover, and the headstrong and wise decision maker of their organisation, Kasih Kinanti. There is a fine Feminism in the book with Biru openly express his admiration to those women he surrounded with along with Asmara’s point of view in the second half. The selection of a realistic and tough woman such Asmara allows the readers to explore her despair without exploitation of grief and that’s a plus for Laut Bercerita.

With Biru’s departure, Asmara Jati found herself as her family’s sanity reminder. Her parents denying the possibility that Biru will never come home and join the family bonding under the dining table as they used to every Sundays. In the end, Asmara is the only bridge to Biru and their loved ones, they both still communicate till the end of the tale. Biru Laut under the see wondering what happens to the people he loved and not knowing whether his death means anything out there whilst Asmara Jani above the see asking where have the man they missed been all these years.

Laut Bercerita offering a different dimension in understanding the 98 riot, quite contrary with what Indonesian education system been taught for generations. Instead of degrading ‘them’ who often referred as PKI (communist member) to be the cause of the chaos, Leila positioned Laut Biru as an innocent citizen along with his studying group who as sincere as anyone else loving their homeland, putting their work into helping those who they believed to be oppressed by the New Regime.

Aku tak yakin apakah aku akan mengalami Indonesia yang berubah; Indonesia yang berbeda; Indonesia yang kita inginkan bersama.

I’m not sure if I will experience changed Indonesia; different Indonesia; Indonesia we all dream of.

– page 221


            Laut Bercerita is a tale of a conflict and tragedy, a complicated one which still remains as a tangled history caused unhealed wounds for generations. Leila makes it clear that she doesn’t try to solve any of the unanswered questions instead, Leila tells us a different perspective of the history, that it did happen and those who affected is still healing through their trauma, to say the least. Those who were taken and never come home to their loved ones not only stamped as nation’s traitors, their lives never taken into account as youths they were once: they were sons and daughters of million parents who couldn’t say out loud of their death for they could be killed for admitting any relationships, they were siblings to those who only lived in memories, they were lovers who left grief and hope to those who loved them and waited for them, they were citizens who proudly fighting for what they believe as the best for the nation’s future, students who many should be given the chance to learn more and not killed.

Overall, Laut Bercerita offering a package of a well-written moving tale of despair with 98 Riot as its background. With Leila’s sense of humor, Laut Bercerita doesn’t seem to be too intense with a well-balance of history, humanity, faith, romance, and hollow. Lastly, it is clear that Leila delivering Laut Bercerita as her way of saying that there are sides of the 98 Riot and perhaps her end is a story of humanity which the Indonesia government seems to forget about: humanity.

“Matilah engkau mati

Kau akan lahir berkali-kali…”

Die you die

For you to be born again and again