Beauty is a Wound – Eka Kurniawan

So she let her stomach get bigger and bigger, held the selamatan ritual at seven months, and let the baby be born, even though she refused to look at her. She had already given birth to three girls before this and all of them were gorgeous, practically like triplets born one after another. She was bored with babies like that, who according to her were like mannequins in a storefront display, so she didn’t want to see her youngest child, certain she would be no different from her three older sisters. She was wrong, of course, and didn’t yet know how repulsive her youngest truly was.

Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound takes place in the Indonesian city Halimunda, where a prostitute named Dewi Ayu lives through many decades of the turbulent twentieth century. It has a giant cast of vibrant, larger-than-life, sometimes-magical characters and a wide tapestry in terms of story and time, and its view of history is startlingly, centrally female. This romp of a book dwells on the crude, from piss and shit to sex, more often than on the sublime — but a New York Times review was rather inadequate when it described Kurniawan’s work as being merely about “unruly, untameable and often unquenchable desires.” Because it’s not just about desire; specifically, it features numerous, terrifyingly varied portrayals of rape. The beauty possessed by Dewi Ayu’s first three daughters, like “mannequins in a storefront display,” is not just a wound but a grave, ever-present danger for each of them.

I read the book as being “postcolonial” in the sense that it does examine the volcanic changes that take place in Javanese society after independence from the Dutch, from Japanese occupation to civil war; its topics range from law enforcement and local politics to the experiences of prisoners of war. But in the relations between male and female characters, the country’s violence and strife is replicated in miniature. So many men see their way clear to raping, to owning, to violating, some other woman. And each female character who is raped suffers as mightily as if she were an entire country unto herself.

It’s a fascinating, sometimes offensive read, and I’m still not sure I understand it fully, nor was I actually sure I enjoyed it. But as a book that has both the grandeur of García Marquez and the mordant scatological humor of Beckett, and is told in its own original, rambunctiously vulgar, yet beautiful voice, it is well worth a read.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The City in the Sea”

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide-
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.

Poe’s “City in the Sea” refers to the city erected by Death, in which all lost souls, squandered riches, and fallen idols are laid to waste in “melancholy waters,” as Death looks “gigantically down” in satisfaction.

But these lines also tend to remind me of the metropolis in which kht, jd, and I reside: New York, of course. On its best days, the towering skyline ascends to the heavens and punctures them, sending their contents spilling down onto us. On its worst days:

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

The 100 Recap: 3×07 “Thirteen”

The 100 has shown us a ten-year-old girl committing cold-blooded murder, the romantic lead gunning down an entire village of innocents, and the protagonist wiping out an entire race of human beings, but this was still arguably the most controversial episode yet. It was also one of its best: “Thirteen” was a stunningly crafted hour of television, one that elegantly weaved all of the disparate plotlines of the season together and organically changed the entire mythology of the show without feeling like a retcon. It also happened to be a heartbreaking, elegiac origin story/farewell episode in the vein of season two’s “Spacewalker” (but for a much more popular and beloved character), and while a few elements of the execution may have been problematic, “Thirteen” will go down as one of the boldest moves in The 100‘s history.

All right, let’s get on with the recap. This is going to be a tough one. Continue reading →