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In the Eye of the Beholder   Leave a comment

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The first sentence in Eka Kurniawan epic, Beauty is a Wound, is a doozy: “One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.” It sets the perfect-wtf-tone for the entire novel.

Set in Indonesia, the narrative combines elements of the island nation’s history with folk lore, superstition, mystery and love. It’s farfetched in scope and captivating in its depiction of a myriad of characters.

Dewi Ayu is of Dutch heritage and her beauty is renowned throughout the island. Her story includes her childhood, survival during the Japanese occupation and eventual career path as a prostitute. She has three daughters whose beauty is also the stuff of legends and a third daughter, whose appearance is so repulsive that out of consideration for others,  keeps herself hidden. Also, because of Dewi Ayg’s exquisite looks, she a very popular lady of the night.

Ironically, the ugly daughter is named Beauty.

At times it’s difficult keeping track of who’s who, which political regime is in power and who’s a spirit or not. The effort is worth it. Kurniawan jostles back and fourth among characters and time frames as he tells Dewi Ayu’s story.

Many of the subplots are like fairy tales. They are easy to get caught up in before the author reveals the connections each element has to another. Don’t expect a happily-ever-after outcome, but do be prepared for an engaging, if often exaggerated, explanation of how a woman suddenly is among the living again.

Beauty is a Wound
Four Bookmarks
New Directions Paperback, 2015 (translated edition by Annie Tucker)
470 pages

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