Vengeance is mine, all others pay cash by Eka Kurniawan

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Trans. by Annie Tucker. Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925498226
(Adult) Though in many ways a remarkable novel, this book is not for the faint-hearted. Eka Kurniawan is a young Indonesian writer who was much praised for Beauty is a Wound, which won the 2016 World Readers' Award, and Man Tiger, awarded the 2016 Financial Times/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award. The contemporary Indonesia pictured here is no sweet 'Bali Hai' tourist destination. The young learn to survive in a culture that has suffered political unrest, and is at the mercy of organized gangs, petty criminals and corrupt police. There are many scenes of violence, including one of rape, and some sexually explicit action. The main character Ajo Kawir is a village teenager who spies on sexual encounters but is caught doing so one night and is forced to be part of a rape. As a result he becomes impotent and violent. His impotency is discussed very frankly by Ajo and his concerned friends. Despite his problem Ajo and Iteung, a skilled fighter with a gang, fall in love and Ajo learns how to satisfy her without the help of his penis, which is described as 'fast asleep'. When Iteung becomes pregnant to another gang member Ajo seeks out and kills a gang enemy. Iteung in turn kills the father of her child. Both serve time in prison. The reader learns that Iteung has become a fighter to defend herself against a sexually abusive teacher. When released Ajo buys a truck with the blood money he earned and lives a peaceful life although others around him drive ferociously, push each other off the road, and battle out grudges in soldier-backed gambling contests. Ajo is eventually 'cured' by a mysterious woman who is perhaps supernatural, while Iteung, on her release from prison, seeks out and kills the men responsible for the initial unmanning rape. Ajo settles down with her child to wait for her return from a second prison sentence for this crime. While much of the action is very dark, as teeth and blood splatter and bones crack, the tone of the novel is not. There is a degree of humour and light-heartedness about it all. Ajo works through his rage fairly quickly and is happy to talk to and about his 'Sleeping Bird'. Ajo's impotency is presented both sympathetically and humorously, and he is able to survive in a violent male world. The narrative is fast paced, the language simple and direct, but the chronology is challenging as events are not always presented in order of time. This novel could be very enjoyable for the right mature reader but does have some frank sex scenes and violence.
Jenny Hamilton