Stories of Indian Pacific
Works of Indonesian fiction, whether set in Indonesia or written by Indonesians, are still comparatively rare in Australia, and can therefore be difficult to read sensitively. In her collection of three novellas set in New Caledonia, Adelaide/Bandung and Bali, Melbourne writer Dewi Anggraeni attempts to explore the ground between cultures and the way people straddle cultures and come to an accommodation and understanding of each other. She is not always successful.
On first reading the stories seemed flat. Things are named (but not described) in a very general way that doesn’t reveal characters or cultures. I found this lack of description disorienting. In ‘Crossroads’ the Melbourne apartment of rock star Justin is ‘tastefully decorated’, as is the Balinese ashram he stays at. Justin admires the ‘lush gardens and manicured lawns’ of a hotel in Sanur. In ‘Uncertain Step’ the migrant bride Aryani makes similar observations of her new home in suburban Adelaide. But this may well be what Anggraeni intends to downplay the unusual and exotic in order to home in on the similarities of emotions. Perhaps as one of the characters, Sharon, wearily realises, Indonesian culture is ‘too foreign for her emotional acceptance’. While Inez Baranay’s recent The Edge of Bali teems with surface details, Stories of Indian Pacific runs deeper.