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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Saturday, October 26, 2013

...a unique and fascinating read

Ramadan Sky a novella by Nichola Hunter

A compelling look into one disaffected Australian woman's journey to modern day Jakarta as an ESL teacher.
Surrounded by peoples of different values and culture, and weird expats who seem like runaways from their own culture, which they now would have difficulty returning to, Victoria's story is told in colourful prose with a delicate turn of phrase. One can feel the heat rising from the pavements of Jakarta and smell the heavy mix of spices and motorbike fumes.
Underneath the story lurks questions about behaviour in and acceptance of other cultures, about inter-racial relationships and cultural mores.
Told from the viewpoint of the three main characters, Victoria or Vic the older Australian ESL teacher, Fajar a young Indonesian Muslim man from a poor background, and Aryanti his Muslim girlfriend.
Aryanti tells Fajar she can't marry him after he loses his job.
Vic hires Fajar to be her driver.  They have an affair that brings it's own hazards and disapprovals. Vic reflects on Fajar entering into her world in simple ways, like going to restaurants despite the disapproval of his fellow Indonesians, who in a glance can sum up his social status, and how stoically Fajar confronts these moments.
Meanwhile Aryanti resorts to magic to win back Fajar.
Fascinating glimpses of the swings between belief in the magic of Aryanti's village heritage  and Muslim faith are brought into play. As is the difference between the culture's behaviour according to gender, the way people in a community borrow money from each other, and how a life of poverty is a very real thing for so many. The difference between the lives of the poor and the very wealthy is exposed.
At one stage Vic comments about Fajar, 'It is only youth that can outshine poverty.'
There is a transient quality to the story reflecting the short moment in time that is represented, a suspension in some way of reality for all involved. Yet a moment that will have marked effects on all three lives long after it's passed.
As Fajar comments, 'The beginning of change is a narrow lane way that opens like magic onto a large field of rice.'

A NetGalley ARC

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