Laksmi Pamuntjak, a prominent Indonesian author, released her third novel, 'Fall Baby', presenting a multi-theme of women, visual art, history and identity.
Fall Baby tells the story of two women – Srikandi (Siri) and Dara, one a globetrotting visual artist, the other a human rights activist.
Siri is the illegitimate daughter of Amba and Bhisma, the protagonists of Pamuntjak’s award winning first novel, Amba/The Question of Red. The winner of Germany’s LiBeraturpreis in 2016, has been translated into several languages.
Pamuntjak has been consistently writing on the theme of women, and their relations with family, history and politics, Laksmi tries to present the paradox women must face in their lives – between the freedom of mind and body in contrast with the patriarchal culture still upheld by most Indonesians.
“I wanted to write about Siri and Dara to encourage women to be brave to create their own stories, women who have freedom for their own bodies and minds,” Laksmi told journalists at the launch of Fall Baby in Jakarta, Thursday.
“Because, no matter how smart or talented a woman is, or how far she has been traveling the world to study and seek knowledge and experience, in the end, many Indonesian women are required to submit to their role according to a patriarchal culture that limits them to achieving their true potential,” she added.
Another theme that is highlighted in Fall Baby is adoption, as Laksmi is very interested in the dynamics between adopted children, their biological parents as well as their adopted parents.
“(I learned that) a lot of adopted children, when they know that they are adopted, their love and respect for their parents are magnified because it is a gesture of the great love and sacrifice many parents make to love someone else’s children as their own,” she emphasized.
Fall Baby is the most personal novel she has ever written, as she puts a lot of personal touches in it including Berlin, a city where Siri decides to settle down which is also very dear to her heart, Laksmi said. She had a chance to live in Berlin during her childhood, following her father who studied architecture in the capital city.
“Berlin is the place where I feel calmest and most serene. While for Siri, it is the way to reconnect with her two fathers,” she said.
After living in numerous art capitals of the world – London, Madrid, New York – Siri decides to settle in Berlin, where she hopes to evade her dark past and be spiritually closer to the history of her two late fathers. Just as she begins to rearrange her life as an international visual artist in artistically vibrant Berlin, a piece of unexpected news summons her back to Jakarta.
There, not only does she has to confront her relationship with her mother, Amba; her former best friend, Dara; and her stepdaughter, Amalia, and give meaning to each relationship. She also has to navigate the complex interweaving of art, religion, politics and history.
Fall Baby was first published in Germany in September 2018 by Ullstein Verlag under the title Herbstkind. The original version in English was published by Penguin Random House SEA in October 2019.
Laksmi is the first Indonesian contemporary novelist whose original work in English has been published by Penguin Random House, the venerable literary publishing house.
Srikandi, the Indonesian translation of the Fall Baby published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, will be released in early 2020.