Penguin publishes the translation of a novel based on the Batak culture

Award-winning writer, translator, researcher and cultural ambassador Jennifer Lindsay has translated Ashadi’s epic family drama Siregar Rejection: A Sumatran Odyssey into English. Historical fiction takes readers to the jungles of North Sumatra during Indonesia’s struggle for independence. A gripping tale, this family epic presents an intimate portrait of a young man’s sexual and political awakening during a time of rebellion in Sumatra, taking the reader on a journey through the mystical world of the Batak.

Cover illustration of ‘Rejection: A Sumatran Odyssey’ CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Lindsay, whose scope of work reflects her deep understanding of Indonesia, has studied in New Zealand, the United States and Australia, and has translated many works of literature from Indonesian into English.

His translations include four anthologies of essays by Goenawan Mohamad, the novel Nadira by Leila S Chudori, Buru Island: A Prison Memoir by Hersri Setiawan, the poetic work Pariyem’s Confession by Linus Suryadi, and short stories by various writers.

She has edited, translated and written essays in numerous scholarly volumes, writing on cultural policy, cultural history, performance, media and language. She also made a documentary film on the cultural missions of Indonesia during the Soekarno period.

An Honorary Associate Professor in the Australian National University’s School of Culture, History and Language, she now focuses on translation and divides her time between Indonesia and Australia.

Meanwhile, Siregar’s novel follows the story of Tondi who, as a young man, joins the separatist rebellion of the late 1950s and early 1960s in North Sumatra. Later, he moves to Java and finds his way through the murky underworld of Jakarta.

Tondi’s story is intertwined with the magical world of her paternal grandfather, a traditional shaman priest living in the ancient pre-Islamic and pre-Christian world of Batak belief.

All reject something, just as the era itself is one of rejection – rejection of past ways, rejection of nationalist ideals and rejection by the Sumatran rebels of the centralizing Indonesian government.

Irene B. Bowles