The Question of Red
Amazon, 2016 (2016)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
irst published in Indonesia and named #1 on Germany's Weltempfaenger (Receivers of the World) list of the best works of fiction translated into German, this is not only a well-researched look at Indonesian history during the 1965-66 anti-Communist purge and after, but also a heart-wrenching story of unending love.
mba, a beautiful but independent woman, is betrothed to Salwa, to whom she is not attracted. She meets Bhisma, and they both fall deeply in love. The turbulent times separate them, and though they go on with their lives, each is deeply marked by the love they have for each other. This story somewhat parallels that of The Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic, even down to the names of the characters. In the Prologue, the author writes about the importance of a person's name for the Javanese and how a person's life must do his name justice.
his novel is a bit too vast in its aspirations, I think. On the one hand, we learn about the complicated history of that time. Interwoven with that and really more important is what happens to Amba and Bhisma because their separation and coming together is also very involved and confusing. Part of the confusion is that another character, Samuel, enters the picture, and it is through him, that we find out what really happens after the two lovers are separated. Then there is the overlying epic that finds its way into the story and provides a philosophical/psychological view of the characters. It's all maybe a bit much but still really interesting!
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