cover image Man Tiger

Man Tiger

Eka Kurniawan, trans. from the Indonesian by Labodalih Sembiring. Verso (Random, dist.), $18.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-78168-859-5

Kurniawan makes his U.S. debut with this novel, along with the tour-de-force epic Beauty Is a Wound, also being published this fall. Tragic and imaginative, the story begins with the murder of Anwar Sadat, a known womanizer in a rural Indonesian village. An angry young boar hunter named Margio initially confesses to the killing, and one of Anwar’s daughters, Maesa Dewi, witnessed Margio at the scene of the crime. However, Major Sadrah, the town’s only military commander, can’t find a motive. When Sadrah speaks with Margio at the police station, Margio reveals that he is not the killer—rather, Margio believes a ghostly ancestral tiger that lives inside his body committed the murder. Kurniawan is a sly raconteur, and the easy flow of his prose shines in Sembiring’s translation. The narrative is told in a style that evokes oral storytelling traditions. It is conversational, cyclical, and tangential. The frequent digressions are used effectively for characterization and provide a larger understanding of the events leading to Anwar’s death. The world Kurniawan invents is familiar and unexpected, incorporating mystery, magical realism, and folklore. Biting and beautiful, the book’s mythical elements are grounded by grim accounts of Margio’s troubled family and its abusive patriarch, Komar bin Syueb. This wild and enthralling novel manages to entertain while offering readers insight into the traditions of a little-known South East Asian culture. Kurniawan has officially put the West on notice. (Sept.)