The Book of Jakarta

A city in short fiction, Edited by Teddy W. Kusuma and Maesy Ang (Comma Press 2020)

The Book of Jakarta has given me something that I’ve been craving for a long time – the opportunity to travel to new places and explore new cultures. 

If, like me, you’re sick of seeing the same four walls then this is the book for you. The anthology is made up of ten short stories from contemporary Indonesian writers who have all called Jakarta their home at one time or another. It has been masterfully edited by Teddy W. Kusuma and Maesy Ang who run Post, an independent bookshop located in Pasar Santa, South Jakarta. 

The Book of Jakarta takes you on a whirlwind tour of Jakarta and it’s residents, from a couple of buskers to a women who is about to get married, an aging sex worker to a group of senior citizens. Tying all these stories and characters together is a common struggle to navigate life in a capitalist regime that seems to have left them behind. 

The translators have done a great job of maintaining a unique voice each of the stories, which fully immerse the reader in the bustling streets of Jakarta. On the surface The Aroma of Shrimp Paste by Hanna Fransiscaand translated by Khairani Barokka is a mundane story of a woman trying to get a passport sorted at short notice so she can go on her bargain holiday. Read more closely though and you get catapulted headfirst into a tale of the frustrations of bureaucracy and the ways the population tries to sidestep them – with varying levels of success.

Buyan by utiuts and translated by Zoë McLaughlin is a hilarious bite sized tale of technology gone wrong. Auntie Nana, a wannabe influencer, gets trapped in a driverless car heading for part of the city that is now underwater. Even this 5 page story is packed with political and cultural commentary. The title itself, Buyan, –stupid  in Palembang, one of 700 languages spoken across Indonesia – shows just how diverse the country is. Centring the story in a future where half of Jakarta is submerged underwater also shines light on the very current and real effects of climate change in the city.

I was unaware of many of the issues faced in Jakarta, and more broadly in Indonesia, before reading this book. Comma Press has given us an important insight into this archipelago from a very human perspective. 

I wonder where in the world Comma Press will be taking us next. 

Full list of short stories:

B217AN 1 by Ratri Ninditya. Translated by Mikael Johani
The Aroma of Shrimp Paste by Hanna Fransisca. Translated by Khairani Barokka
The Problem by Sabda Armandio Alif. Translated by Rara Rizal
Buyan by utiuts. Translated by Zoë McLaughlin
A Secret from Kramat Tunggak by Dewi Kharisma Michellia. Translated by Shaffira Gayatri
Grown-Up Kids by Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie. Translated by Annie Tucker
Haji Syiah by Ben Sohib. Translated by Paul Agusta
The Sun Sets in the North by Cyntha Hariadi. Translated by Eliza Vitri Handayani
All Theatre is False by Afrizal Malna. Translated by Syarafina Vidyadhana
A Day in the Life of a Guy from Depok who Travels to Jakarta by Yusi Avianto Pareanom. Translated by Daniel Owen

The Book of Jakarta is available on the Comma Press website.

Or why not support your local indie book shop.

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