Karya-karya Sastra May Swan, Penulis Singapura Kelahiran Indonesia



A novel traces the lives of three women from different generations, social status and family backgrounds. It covers the life of poor peasants in rural China, to the migration of black and white sisterhood workforce to Nan Yang, their struggle and sacrifices in pursuing the dreams of becoming financial independent amidst hostile social environment. The breakdown of social conventions in rural China during the Communist Liberation Movements followed   by The Long March reflected in the changing attitudes towards sex, love and marriage among young people. The story describes passionate love affair between a young innocent maid Siu Siu and her boss’s son, the painful separation between lovers during the civil war in China, followed by jealousy and betrayal. The book also covers the life of Kim Neo, a beautiful and headstrong only daughter of Baba Tan, a prominent Chinese Peranakan family in Malacca at the beginning of Malaysian independence period. Her love affair with James Fernandez a Portuguese Eurasian with a mysterious background put a strain on the family, threatening to disrupt the strong bond between father and daughter. The story is set against the golden era of the Peranakan Chinese in Malacca, followed by the rise and fall of a subculture riding on the back of colonial powers.



The book is based on the real life story of Lt.Col. Heru Atmodjo.  He held the position as Assistant Director of Indonesian Air Force Intelligence Production when he was incarcerated for fifteen years without proper legal procedures for a political crime he did not commit following the 1965 Movement in Indonesia that saw the massacre of over one million innocent people. The book follows his childhood life in a mountainous village in East Java. His military life started when he became a member of TRIP Student Soldiers of the Republic of Indonesia, involved in guerrilla warfare fighting for National Independence in East Java. To fulfil his lifelong ambition he trained as a fighter pilot in the Indonesian Air Force, and subsequently became a trainer in the force. In 1961 he was sent to the US to attend a one year course on Air, Photo & Radar Intelligence at Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Fall, Texas. He had the prospect of becoming Chief of the Air Force when the abortive 1965 purge put a tragic end to his career. He was unjustly implicated and sentenced to life imprisonment by Suharto military regime that took over power from the nationalist government of Sukarno. He was released after 15 years in detention in 1980, due to the intervention of International Human Rights. The book describes the courage of pro Sukarno senior military personnel in facing their final hours of execution by firing. It also gives hour by hour detailed testimony on the days before and after the 1965 purge which clearly proved President Sukarno and the Indonesia Air Force were not involved in the catastrophic event. The book is a first-hand life witness to the intrigues, deceit and betrayal within the Indonesian army as well as the inner circle of Indonesian Air Force during the chaotic period that led to Heru’s arrest.



The book relates the abused childhood of Simon Lee, the son of a prostitute living in Lorong 5, Geylang, a red light district in Singapore in the 50s. He suffered humiliation throughout his young life, maltreated by his own family. He worked hard, determined to make a life for himself, and in the end managed to come to terms with his depressive past. The novel describes the very nature of society at various levels, even within the family circle; of human courage, conflicting relationships, betrayal and deceit. The story covers real life situation in Batam, a mere half hour ferry journey across the Riau Straits from Singapore. The island has become a popular sexual retreat for young and old Singaporean males from students to wobbling grandfathers with walking stick looking for cheap sexual adventures taking advantage of strong Singapore dollar against the Indonesian rupiah. Batam is a paradise island for sexual adventure for Singapore customers. Meanwhile the booming sex industry is filled with tears, heartbreak, betrayal and exploitation for the villagers born into a life of poverty and misfortune.



The story revolves around Hidayat,  the sole survivor of a brutal mob attack that killed his entire family . Hidayat was a young boy when he saw his father, mother and brother  butchered to death right in front of him in the living room of his  house. This happened one night during the chaotic period of the 1965 purge in a small town in Java.  The incident led to the mass killing of over one million innocent people that marked the infamous dark period in Indonesian history.  Hidayat  grew up full of hatred and vengeance feeling life had cheated on him. At school he became a bully, vented his frustration by picking on small and weak students. After leaving school he formed a group of pick pocket gang with his two friends. But they were caught by the local police who in turn exploited and made the gang work for them. With the security connection and backing from the police, the gang criminal activities escalated from petty to serious crimes. In the meantime, his love life played havoc on his adult life as he hated and distrusted anybody who showed warmth towards him. His life took a turning when by chance he met Ariana on a train journey from Jakarta to Bandung, a lovely mountainous city known for its beautiful ladies and historic architecture. A relationship rapidly  developed between the two. But unknown to him, the  gorgeous Ariana has a problem of her own, and that further complicates his life even more.



Soerono and Lee Lin are school-days sweethearts from Pah Chung Chinese School in the 50s in Jakarta the capital city of Indonesia. He is of Javanese stock and she is Chinese. Swept up in political fervour of the times, both went to the newly liberated China with the intention of furthering their education, but soon caught up in the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution as well as the impact of the bloody 1965 purge back home in Indonesia. With the help of a family friend they managed to leave China, got married and set up a new life in Paris. They set up life in a charming little suburb outside Paris spending time entertaining old friends, reminiscing the good old days.

After years of regulated peaceful life Soerono became restless, resented the sedate provincial life that he associated with life stuck in stagnant waters. He went back to Bondowoso, the place of his birth in an attempt to connect with his roots and recover the vigour of youth which he desperately missed, and hoped to create a vibrant Bohemian lifestyle of Montmartre in Bondowoso. There, in the land of his birth he experienced a reversed cultural shock; things are not as they used to be. Cultural and social degradation are rampant, corruption and religious intolerance are the order of the day. And to his surprise, people are still living in fear affected by the shadow of past 1965 mass murder.

During his stay in Bondowoso Soerono has a whirlwind love affair and gratifying relationship with Marjora, a young drop dead gorgeous fashion journalist, a social activist with strong nationalistic bent. It was a life changing experience for Soerono who prior to his affair had been a faithful husband. In spite of his long married life he is emotionally a virgin when it comes to women. The only woman he knows all his life is his wife. His relationship with Marjora led him to question the sanctity of marriage that placed great single emphasis on sexual fidelity. He wonders if it can ever be a demarcation between marriage and love. The affair posed a threat to his marriage when inadvertently his wife found out about his secret. Faced with the situation, he is left wondering how to live with the dilemma and a shattering dream .



This book is a collection of 10 short stories by May Swan written in Bahasa Indonesia. The material among others documented various significant political events in Indonesia and Southeast Asia using story telling literature style. The stories among others cover the following happenings: The contribution and sacrifices of a group of  Chinese community in Sungailiat, the unsung heroes during the Indonesian national independence struggle in the 40s; The anti-colonial political awakening and the rise of nationalism culminated in Bandung Asia Africa Conference in the 60s; The frustration and disillusion experienced by the vast displaced Indonesian Chinese community that moved to China during the Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s. There is a story about marital abuse in an outwardly happy family that led to sexual awakening and understanding of human nature with all its ups and downs.



1 comment so far

  1. Eko Hermiyanto on

    Astaga. Saya berada di dalam forum diskusi yang sama dengan May Swan, dan malahan baru tahu dari sini kalau beliau menulis sastra!

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