This tale of modern love in Indonesia is a fun and breezy read
Of course I’m angry, not just angry. Beyond rage. Furious. This isn’t a small thing. Yet they talked about marrying me off like we’re going to the salon to cut my hair. Hair grows back. Hello! This is marriage! Marriage means a whole new life with all those unknown unforeseeable things. Yes, I am terrified. Marrying a stranger. A stranger! And they know I’m still grieving over what happened. How can I handle all this, without going mental?
(From Love, Lies And Indomee by Nuril Basri)
If you are looking for a light read that is also smart, Love, Lies And Indomee by Nuril Basri is right up your alley. Set in Indonesia, the novel tackles the modern struggle to find love, marriage and gender roles from the perspective of a witty young woman named Ratu.
Originally titled ENAK and written in Bahasa Indonesia, the novel was recently translated to English and published by Epigram Books. It is the local publisher’s first foray into Indonesian fiction, and we appreciate this introduction of the notable young Indonesian writer Nuril Basri to those of us who cannot read the original language. Recognised as a rising literary star in his home country, Basri has written several critically acclaimed novels that mainly focus on the struggles of young people living in modern Indonesia. Stories about love and coming of age in a rigid society abound in all kinds of media, but most of such stories we consume in Singapore come from a Western lens. Love, Lies And Indomee is a refreshing peek into a world and experiences that are closer to our own.
Ratu is a very real and relatable heroine, especially for female readers today. She’s not confident about her looks, and believes that a great romance cannot happen for a fat woman like her. Yet, she is not self-pitying or miserable. And she has no reason to! We admire Ratu as a financially independent single young working woman. Not only is her job an impressive one, it is also super fascinating – she works in the Korean Embassy of Indonesia, as the secretary to a police attaché. The various assignments she gets, such as researching about rabid dogs in Bali, offer humorous insights into how the local residents manage Indonesia’s booming tourism industry.
Ratu’s life gets shaken up when she goes on a date with Hans, a handsome man she meets on Facebook. The date turns out disappointing, as Ratu quickly discerns that Hans is just using her for her money. But that’s not the end of her and Hans’ relationship. In a classic case of “I’ll pay you to pose as my boyfriend in front of my parents to shut them up about my love life,” the two of them ultimately move from fake to real couple. We love this gender-flip situation that highlights Ratu’s financial stability; the author could have spent more time and attention to develop their romance, though. It happens a little too abruptly to be convincing that a pair that keeps bickering and has little in common, would suddenly fall madly in love.
But that’s not the whole story, because another man comes into Ratu’s life! So much for thinking she’s not a good catch, right? Given her independent and feisty demeanor, we are not surprised to learn that Ratu’s name means “queen.” And she really starts to own her name when she begins to fight for her right to happiness and real love. When Ratu learns that Hans has not been a faithful boyfriend, she tells him that he should learn to take responsibility for his actions. Then, she agrees to an arranged marriage with a man she just met. Wait, what?
Traditionally, arranged marriages tend to be perceived in a negative light, deemed an undesirable and even oppressive way to form a sacred union that should be based on True Love. It is important to note that arranged marriages, especially in modern times, are not the same as forced marriages. Love, Lies And Indomee clearly reminds us that. Ratu chooses to marry Inu, surprising the man himself as well as her parents, who have been nagging at her to get married soon and even suggested Inu. She chooses the arranged marriage mostly to spite Hans – which does work – but she doesn’t wait for him to get her back so she can find happiness. Ratu tries to get to know her new husband, and gradually, as they work out the husband-wife dynamics of their unconventional marriage, she grows more comfortable with him. Will her arranged marriage blossom into genuine love?
You might notice that plenty of romance cliches come into play throughout the novel’s constantly meandering plot. Still, Ratu’s strong character arc helps to ground the story and keeps us engaged. Her wit is outrageously laugh-out-loud funny most of the time. The prose can get awkward, and we’re not sure if that is the problem of the language getting lost in translation. It’s best to go into the novel not taking the events too seriously, but dive into Ratu’s world, and keep an open mind to be surprised by the thought-provoking social commentary of this easy read.
Thank you to Epigram Books for providing us with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.