Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book: “Laskar Pelangi” by Andrea Hirata

Facts: The book is written in Bahasa Indonesia (though those sold in Malaysian bookstore have been translated to Bahasa Malaysia). This is the author’s first book, which immediately garnered critical acclaim and climbed the bestsellers list.

I opened the glove compartment (by the way, do we still have to call it glove compartment in Malaysia, since no sane person here ever wear a pair given the 365-days of sweltering heat?) of my friend’s car, and a book with red and black cover revealed itself. “Oh, you should read that book. You’ll cry”. Glancing at the author’s name and the summary, my only remark was “Ok”.

Fast forward three weeks later. We were at a bookstore in Yogyakarta, Indonesia when I chanced upon the same book, this time displayed in the bestsellers list (of course, as “Indonesia’s most powerful book” tag-line is printed on its cover, where else would it be if not on the bestseller list, eh?). Praying that this won’t end up as another souvenir to be displayed on my shelf, I paid IDR 60,000 at the cashier. That was the best sixty thousand rupiah spent on that trip.

I adore, absolutely adore this book. To say this book touches my heart is an understatement. All I know is that I want to take the next flight to Indonesia, meet the writer, bow to and hug him and cry, ‘Where have you been!?’. Okay, maybe that is a bit dramatic. But, reading this book was such an euphoric experience. It has been too long since a book affects me so much that upon reaching the last word, I wished the book has not ended. That as I wake up tomorrow, fifty more pages would magically appear. And fifty more pages the next day and the next and the next…

“Laskar Pelangi” or literally translated as The Soldiers of the Rainbow recounts the magic of childhood and friendship. Set against a backdrop of deprived community, eleven children grow up with pretty much nothing to their name but with everything that is pure and inspiring in their heart. A good deal of the pleasure in this book is how Andrea shaped his character and the world they lived in, in this case Kampung Belitong, with such crisp details. The characters come alive, their stories was excruciatingly painful that once in a while you will claim “dust gets into my eyes”, yet their experience was heart-warming and tender at the same time.

The center of the story is poverty and in a fresh take, Andrea brings us to view that even those who live by counting pennies have a chance to shine if they were given the opportunity. Kids, blessed their little souls, should be given inspiration and motivation to succeed and encouraged to face any obstacle with dignity, determination and courage. This book is also a salute to the teachers who genuinely believe that good education is deserved by every child and is a homage to the students who hungrily lapped at the teachings.

I usually do my reading on the train to and from work, and it was with best effort I tried not to cry or laugh like a crazy old woman in public. How could you not cheer when a bunch of poor nobodies, whose school is always last in the ranking, decided to take on the rich, more fortunate kids in a quiz show? Or when they defy expectation to stage a shocking cultural performance in the inter-school carnival? How could you not fall in love with a character that appreciate his education so much he cycled 80-km to and from school everyday, and never miss a day of school? Kids that others looked down upon, except for their hardworking teacher who wants nothing more than for them to liberate their family out of poverty?

“Laskar Pelangi” is an enriching ‘motivational book’ disguised as a novel. As if there is no tomorrow, I profoundly encourage you to read this book and pass it on to your loved ones.

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