Setting: Frankfurt Book Fair, day one. Scene: T(r)opical Issues: Women and Taboo panel. Two Indonesian authors and a German moderator—all women—sat in the middle of a large circular space, surrounded by chairs. Audience members were given headsets through which they could receive a simultaneous translation being transmitted from interpreters in glass boxes at the back of the space.
Early on, the older of the two Indonesian women said she “isn’t a feminist.” I am all over women’s rights and every thing feminism stands for but am totally not a feminist! I rolled my eyes and quickly lost interest in her work. But Intan Paramaditha is a feminist, she told the audience, and she writes horror. Horror felt like the safest space for her to discuss the often taboo issues of gender she wanted to address in her work, she said, because so few people take it seriously.
But Paramaditha’s horror works have been taken seriously—in 2005 she won the Khatulistiwa Literary Award, Indonesia’s top fiction prize—perhaps in part because of the issues she has chosen to tackle. Having read the four short stories in Spinner of Darkness and Other Tales (a tri-language collection containing the stories in German, English, and Indonesian) I would classify her work (well, this small corner of it) as in the vein of the literary fairy tale. Think Helen Oyeyemi.
“A primal silent darkness lurks within her fiction, a darkness that imprints its traces and spreads its shadows before forcibly insinuating itself amidst the familiar light of daily life, amidst the normal, the illuminated, the understood. The darkness that swallows brightness into its black robes brings her narratives to a close. Mysteries do not always receive an ultimate answer, nor do they offer liberation or redemption from tragedy. It is if the ghosts (literal or figurative) that pursue her characters cause them to become ghosts themselves. They are reduced to shells of bodies in life, their minds forever haunted by the long shadows of the past,” says Nukila Amal in the collection’s introduction.
These are stories, I would add, that directly address the problems of women in a patriarchal society. The things Paramaditha had to say about gender and society during that book fair panel got me excited to read her work, though very little of it has been translated. I don’t have a lot to say about the stories themselves—you know me and short stories—but read these, remember her name, and remember, the translations were all published in 2015, so you could nominate them for some award or another. Just saying. Just reading.