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Love, Death and Ignorance (by Subhatra Bhumiprabhas)*

Posted in Journalism by Linda Christanty on 11/16/2013

Indonesian SEA Write winner Linda Christanty channelled her activist views on war, politics and friendship into short stories.

An Indonesian journalist and writer who's more used to seeing rejection slips than prizes, Linda Christanty is today able to thumb her nose at those who have refused to publish her by taking home a SEA Write award for her collection of short stories A Dog Died in Bala Murghab. The rejections have come not from any weakness in her writing but because many editors consider her fiction "too political".

The editor of Dawi women magazine's feature section, who posts her stories on her blog, shrugs off such comments, saying that while she isn't shy about speaking about politics in her works, she is merely reflecting the situation in her country and the rest of the world.

"Yes, I give my stories a political context. Sometimes it serves only as background and other times, it takes centre stage," says Christanty, adding that most of her works focus on the family, particularly on the relationships between mother and children, grandfather and granddaughter and brother and sister.

"It is through family stories or histories that you can learn how the political or economics system works in the country. Family stories are not only about grief, sadness, happiness, losing, remembering and love or even how families or individuals survive."

One of the stories in "A Dog Died in Bala Murghab" is set war-torn Afghanistan, a country that Christanty has never visited.

"I wrote this story after receiving an email from a friend working in Afghanistan. He told me how he had seen a soldier shot a dog and how its owner, a little boy, had screamed and cried. He was so sad to see this incident, pointing out that little boy and the dog were not involved in this war."

Reading her friend's email, Christanty's thoughts travelled to Aceh, a zone of conflict for three decades and where she spent five years working as the editor of Aceh Feature

"War doesn't just destroy lives but it breeds a whole set of new problems for the future, as hate becomes instilled in the next generation leading to new enmities," she says.

Christanty, who holds a bachelor's degree in literature from the University of Indonesia, transforms such bitter facts into fiction. A former student activist, she often joined rallies and lent her voice to protests at the country's political conflicts and injustice. Today, fiction serves as the outlet for those same concerns.

Her 1998 essay "Militerisme dan Kekerasan di Timor Leste" ("Militarism and Violence in Timor Leste") won her the Best Essay award on Human Rights and her collection of short stories, Kuda Terbang Maria Pinto (Maria Pinto's Flying Horse) took the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2004. Her novel Tongkat Sultan (Sultan's Stick) addressed the 30-year conflict in Aceh, and the socio-political status of the post-tsunami Aceh peace process that followed.

Her recent non-fiction books, Dari Jawa Menuju Atjeh (From Java to Aceh) and Jangan Tulis Kami Teroris (Don't Write Us Down as Terrorists), discuss shari'ah, political conflict, ethnic nationalism and homosexuality.

The 10 short stories that make up A Dog Died in Bala Murghab explore grief, loss, forgetting and forgiving, love, death, domestic violence, political conflict and conflict resolution and are spiced up with a healthy dose of black humour, making them easy to read.

"I believe literature has opened geographical boundaries and provided a very wide space for us, brother and sisters all over the world, to celebrate human values and human dignity," she says.

Some of her short stories, among them "Maria Pinto's Flying Horse" and "The Fourth Grave" have been translated into Thai by the Writers' Association of Thailand. English versions are also available courtesy of Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Programme.

"I am so honoured to be a recipient of the most prestigious literary award of Southeast Asia. The award serves as a bridge for our Southeast Asian nations to know each other better, to learn, to enjoy and to appreciate the best of our literary works", she concludes.

*SPECIAL TO THE NATION, The Nation, October 28, 2013




Linda Christanty is an author and journalist. Her writing has been recognized by various awards including the national literary award in Indonesia (Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2004 and 2010), award from the Language Center of the Ministry of National Education (2010 and 2013), and The Best Short Stories version by Kompas daily (1989). Her essay "Militarism and Violence in East Timor" won a Human Rights Award for Best Essay in 1998. She has also written script for plays on conflict, disaster and peace transformation in Aceh. It was performed in the World P.E.N Forum (P.E.N Japan and P.E.N International Forum) in Tokyo, Japan (2008). She received the Southeast Asian writers award, S.E.A Write Award, in 2013.

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