Wednesday, 24 February 2016 at 6-9 pm
Kedai, Jalan Benda Raya no.89, Kemang, Jakarta
Welcome to the Jakarta launch of From Now On Everything Will Be Different, a novel by Eliza Vitri Handayani, published by Vagabond Press, Australia. We hope you’ll enjoy yourselves.
At 6.30 pm our emcee Sakdiyah Ma’ruf will open the event. Kartika Jahja and Dinda Kanyadewi will perform a dramatic reading of excerpts taken from the novel.
After that, Jewel Topsfield and Olin Monteiro will lead a Q&A with Eliza. They’ll take questions from the audience too, in English & bahasa Indonesia.
Finally, Eliza will sign books and T-shirts, so don’t forget to buy yours.
In the meantime, check out the cool mural, painted by Vendy Methodos. There is also a large canvas where you can scribble your own graffiti and tell us what freedom means to you, leave feedback about the event, or write what you think about the novel.
DID YOU KNOW? Eliza used to work down the street from Kedai and sometimes came to the café to write. She was inspired by the café’s decoration, made of used materials. The concept of recycling and repurposing fits with the novel’s theme of second chances and starting anew. Recreateria, the café that the novel’s protagonist Julita visits in chapter five, was inspired by Kedai.
Dinda Kanyadewi & Kartika Jahja reading excerpts from the novel
After hearing my friend Bela’s story, about how she was nearly raped during the ’98 riots, I decided to come home and see my parents. We were having tea in the living room when I told them about my French course and about Bela. When I finished talking, Dad looked me right in the eyes and said, “But they deserved it, didn’t they? They’re Chinese after all.”
He might as well have punched me in the gut.
I suspect he said it to piss me off, to put me in my place for daring to try to teach him something, but still … He knew I was talking about a friend, not some news story!
I stormed out of there so fast, but I know no matter how far I go, I can never escape him and what he is—my father, my origin. The seeds of hate run through my veins. A history of hatred runs through our country. What does that make me? What does that make us?
Q&A with Eliza Vitri Handayani & Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jewel Topsfield
I first met Eliza through Twitter, which is very appropriate for Indonesia. A very close friend of mine, a mutual friend of Eliza’s and mine, had put us in touch through Twitter. Eliza then sent me a copy of her book. I remember when I newly arrived in Indonesia in the beginning of last year, I thought I needed to read important Indonesian novels, so I had This Earth of Mankind sitting on my bedside table. To me From Now On Everything Will Be Different is like a guilty respite—the more I read it the more I enjoyed it, the more I learned about Indonesia. At the same time, the themes in From Now On Everything Will Be Different are universal: generational change, rebelling against your parents, self-harm, mental health, a rite of passage novel as well. I’m really interested in asking Eliza: when you set down to write it, did you mean to write a political novel or tell a love story? What novel did you set out to write and did you end up writing something quite different?
I started with the love story, friendship story, between Rizky and Julita—two characters burning with the desire to be true to themselves, even if what they want is at odds with what their parents want or what the majority of other people wants. And then, just as they were graduating from college in ’98, the student protests happened, the dictator Soeharto was toppled. It brought them very high hopes—perhaps now they could be accepted, perhaps now they could be free to explore what they want to be. But they kept meeting with disappointments. They seemed to be stuck in a pattern of high expectations, failing, and starting anew. They also tried many times to be together, but also failed. What would they do in this situation—do they keep trying, or is it better to find new dreams? Is it certain that they will fail again, just because they have failed many times before? If so, does it mean they’re not really free? We’re not really free?
I realized that’s also the story of my generation—we grew up restricted and repressed under Soeharto’s regime and then we experienced this tremendous opportunity for freedom. In ’98 there was such optimism that we could break with the past and make everything better, eradicate corruption, make the country better. But then we experienced many disappointments in the following years. So are we freer now than we used to be?
My novel explores such questions. To me the book is about people struggling for freedom, not only from repressive regime but also to be ourselves and to live as we choose. But how do we know who we are and what we want to do? That’s why I think the search for freedom is tightly connected to the search of identity. In the first part of the book the characters are rebelling, rejecting the paths other people pushed them to, and in the second part they are finding out what they want to do with their lives, building their own paths.
All the best novels are semi-autobiographical, to what extent did you draw from your own experiences when writing the book? And which of the characters that you like more?
I like them both. Cause I’m a woman people think there’s more Julita in me, but there’s equal Rizky and Julita in me. They came from a similar place, they both have the desire to be strong and independent, and their values are more liberal than the average Indonesian. One factor that pushed them to different paths is their gender.
As a man, Rizky has more privilege than Julita. He has more freedom of movement, people respect and listen to him more, so he has more to lose. He ends up leading a double life, presenting an agreeable face to his family and cutting loose with likeminded friends. Julita, as a woman, feels that he she has more to gain by openly disagreeing with the norms and traditions that she considers limiting women. Having many lovers and being unattached carry more significance to her, more weight.
She wants to be able to say “I don’t care what people say,” but the reality is if you grow up rebelling against the approved way, chances are you’ve experienced people trying to bring you down, you may be bullied, people may call you bad, crazy, damaged, unloveable even, and a part of you starts to believe it. As much as you want, you can’t be strong all the time. That’s a part of me that I gave to Juli. There’s also a part of me that sort of leads a double life. I may be agreeable in person, but that’s why I write. When I write I am brave, I am free. Anyway, that’s a part of me that I gave to Rizky.
So this book is political and, to me, important personally. Another reason I wrote this book was to see if people like Rizky and Julita could have a space, could live in Indonesia keeping their values and way of life, if people like me could have a place in this supposedly newer, freer Indonesia.
When Eliza invited me to the launch of her book at the Ubud Writers Readers Festival, I was really excited. I thought this would be a holiday, I actually took leave from work. And then of course it became a huge news story when the panel sessions on the 1965 massacres were cancelled. Next I heard, Eliza’s book launch was also cancelled. I thought there had been a mistake, I actually rang the festival. “It’s not right,” I said, “the book’s not about 1965.” Eliza then turned into quite a big news story, around the world really. I’m just interested, Eliza, when you heard that your book launch had been canceled what was the first thought that went through your mind?
I thought the same thing you did, there had been a mistake. But then I became worried, are the authorities also censoring novels about Reformasi now? Had they extended their objections? I communicated my concern to the festival, I challenged their decision to cancel my book launch. They asked me to submit the manuscript, which I did, and they said they decided to hold off on the launch.
How did that make you feel? Did you feel angry, did you feel bitter? How did you feel about not being able to launch your book?
Personally I’m disappointed that the launch didn’t happen, I was looking forward to it very much. But I’ m also angered that the authorities thought they could do that, censor this internationally renowned festival, surely it crossed their mind that news of the censorship would go everywhere. And it was so close after Frankfurt Book Fairs where we had discussions about 1965. We need those discussions here, not just abroad.
Do you think the festival made a wrong decision by cancelling the events that it did?
The police warning came very close to the start date of the festival, and the organizers weren’t as prepared as they could’ve been, for example they didn’t have lawyers on staff that could help them negotiate with the police. I believe that if we experience censorship, we need to fight back, but how we fight comes back to the individuals regarding how much risk they are able to take. The festival managed to get worldwide attention to the police’s interference with their program, thus highlighting the issue of artistic and intellectual freedom in Indonesia. There are a lot of ways available to us now, we are freer than we used to be before Reformasi, although there are still sensitive issues, such as 1965 and homosexuality. By the way, tonight I’m wearing this bracelet to show my support to the LGBT people, who had been much harassed and victimized lately. We must remember that now we do have more space to act, to voice our concerns, and to affect policies. We can use that space to find more ways to resist censorship, creatively or through activism.
You decided to come to the festival anyway and staged a protest against censorship, can you explain what you did?
I printed excerpts of my novel on t-shirts and I wore those t-shirts to the festival, and I gave away cards explaining why I was wearing the t-shirts.
The ironic thing is, you made international headlines due to your protest, I remember people coming up to you wanting to buy your book. Did the censorship actually have paradoxical effect of making your book more famous than it would otherwise be?
In my case, yes, because the police warned only against the launch of the book, but they didn’t forbid selling, mentioning, or promoting the book. So in my case the police warnings worked as free publicity. In many cases, a ban makes people curious about the book. In other cases, however, the suppression was total—many writers had books that had been banned, the books couldn’t be sold or reviewed or mentioned, the writers had to leave their homeland and live in obscurity, sometimes in fear for their lives.
Before I went to Ubud, my publisher, my partner, and I considered our worst case scenarios, and what we could do to overcome them. I decided to go ahead with the protest—to get the news out there, to show the authorities that we refuse to bow down to repressive acts. I believe the more we can find creative ways, fresh ways to protest, which haven’t been done before, the more we can grab the media’s and the public’s attention, the more we can push the issue of censorship to the forefront of mainstream awareness, and the more effectively we can put pressures on the authorities to respect and actively protect our freedom. Thank you.
Afterwards, Olin Monteiro hosted Q&A with Eliza and the audience, this time in Indonesian.
Watch a video of the reception here.
Finally, here are snapshots of what the audience wrote on the canvas:
Thank you all for coming!