Kernel Kate Dawes reviews BEAUTY IS A WOUND, from Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan, his first English language novel. Kurniawan is a praised author and considered one of the largest literature influencers of Indonesia. This book is receiving praise everywhere and it isn’t stopping with Kernel Kate who dishes her thoughts and love for this amazing novel. BEAUTY IS A WOUND is out now from the peeps at Text Publishing, you should find it in most book stores or you can obtain it HERE. All the best………JK.


beauty is a wound book cover image



BEAUTY IS A WOUND, Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan’s first novel to be translated into English presents us an epic, mystical, tragic, satirical and astonishing tale of family tragedy set against the background of an Indonesian village over three decades. Encompassing the history of an emerging Indonesia during a dynamic and dramatic era BEAUTY IS A WOUND draws on history, myth and Kurniawan’s considerable skill as a story teller to deliver an unforgettable tale.

Beginning on an afternoon one March when Dewi Ayu rises from the grave after 21 years of death and walks from the village cemetery to her house to meet her youngest child beauty for the first time and though this meeting we are taken on a journey through Dewi Ayu’s family history. This family saga begins before Dewi Ayu, with two young lovers cruelly separated when a young native woman, Ma Iyang is taken to be the concubine of a Dutch colonialist, in the process becoming Dewi Ayu’s grandmother. Raised by her grandparents after her parents leave her on their doorstep and vanish Dewi Ayu is independent, headstrong and beautiful and as world war II approaches she insists on staying behind even as others evacuate thinking her native name and appearance will protect her, only to be taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.

Forced into prostitution Dewi Ayu gives birth to three daughters in fairly quick succession. All with different and fairly uncertain fathers and all as beautiful as their mother. Resourceful as ever once the war ends she remains a prostitute both to pay of her debts acquired in regaining her grandparents house and to provide for her family and fast becomes the most renowned and in demand prostitute in Halimunda telling her daughters circumstance made her a prostitute “Just like circumstance makes somebody a prophet or a king”. As her three beautiful daughters grow they are visited by every misfortune possible leaving Dewi Ayu when she again finds herself pregnant praying that her next daughter won’t be beautiful. Giving birth to the ugliest child anyone in the town has ever seen she names her Beauty and wills her self to death days later having never laid eyes on the child.


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Throughout the book as we are introduced to characters we are taken on a side trip at each new introduction sometimes straying away from the main story for several chapters at a time making it more an intricately woven and meticulously crafted series of stories rather than a linear narrative. It’s through these characters stories we see much of the history and mythology of Indonesia worked through the narrative. As we meet the husbands and suitors of Dewi Ayu and her daughters we meet soldiers trained by the Japanese army influential in the declaration of Indonesian independence at the end of the war, see the progress of the communist party and follow them into a bloody coup and obsessively chase a princess so beautiful a war was fought for her love only to discover her long dead. The family by the end of the story becomes a real mix of all the major ethnic and cultural groups in the area at the time with Dewi Ayu being of mixed Dutch and native heritage herself and each of her children having a different father and themselves fathering children to men from a range of backgrounds.

The mythical realism seen throughout the novel from corpses rising from their graves to pigs turning into men once they are shot has the feeling of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to it and in fact there are quite a few similarities in both style and content between BEAUTY IS A WOUND and ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE with both novels featuring family sagas with an element of the unreal to them. In BEAUTY IS A WOUND as well as these mystical elements existing in the environment we also see the characters actively seeking out magic and spirits to help them through their cursed lives with one daughter finding herself a tell chastity belt which will only open by saying a secret mantra.

With beauty, wit, bawdy humour often bordering vulgarity and their mothers strong will Dewi Ayu’s daughter do their best to navigate their lives despite a comically large amount of varied misfortunes befalling them making BEAUTY IS A WOUND a compelling read.


4 and a Half Pops


Having always loved stories one of Kernel Kate’s most frequent childhood memories was her parents telling her in the early hours that it was way too late to still be reading and to go to sleep, but she would always sneak in the end of the chapter. Her love of stories led to a career in movies as well as remaining an avid reader of everything from novels to academic papers and junk mail. She makes a perfect reading machine fit to the Salty Cob.


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