Title: Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 350
First impression is crucial. It may make or break a deal; forge or destroy a friendship; kill or start a bond. The first impression an author makes, with his any book, on his reader can either earn him a fan or a cynic. That book need not be his best creation, but it has to tempt the reader to pick his next creation for sure. Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash may not be Eka Kurniawan’s best book (his earlier novel Beauty is a Wound was nominated for Man Booker Prize and is listed as the top 100 notable books by New York Times), but it is the first book I have read by him. And Mr Kurniawan has definitely not earned a cynic.
The Indonesian writer is touted as the Gabriel Marquez of the East. He’s said to be the next superstar writer in league with Marquez and Murakami who can play with surreal magical realism. Now I can’t say anything about magical realism in context to Kurniawan’s writings as Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash has no signs of that. If anything, it reads more like a pulp fiction with fabulously etched out characters and backgrounds. However, the book proves Kurniawan is the writer to look forward.
The story is narrated in non-linear style yet it is not difficult to understand the flow of the events. The protagonist is Ajo Kawir whose ‘bird won’t stand up’ and the book is more or less about his plight, and the bird who won’t take a flight! Kawir, alongwith his friend Gecko, in his teen years and as what happens in this age bubbling with hormones, is always looking for free fun either in the form of sex or fight. The boys kill time by peeping into the newlyweds’ houses while they are having sex, and these two have their share of fun at their cost later by ‘relieving’ themselves. All is fine till Gecko discovers a really beauty Scarlet Blush and takes Kawir on a tour to her house so they can have a new peephole. Unfortunately, the boys witness the rape of Scarlet Blush by two policemen which eventually leaves the shaken Kawir impotent. He tries to wake up his Bird with various methods to no avail.
Kawir, that’s why, turns to fights as in words of Gecko’s father, “Only guys who can’t get hard can fight with no fear of death.” Kawir’s life on road as a truck driver too is narrated with a kind of indifference and warmth as he must feel with how his life turns after a lost love, a big fight and hard incarceration.
The author subtly, but efficiently, ropes in many subplots to the original story keeping it interesting and flowing at the same time. The many characters which keep on reappearing in the book don’t look redundant despite playing a minuscule role in the whole story. The story runs like a screenplay. With every line, Kurniawan creates an image and helps the reader form a picture of his imagination of the characters and their lives. It seems he kept the Indonesian life at the background of the story, but by the end, the life as a common man in the island country becomes character in its own right.
Kurniawan also skilfully manages to save his pulp fiction type novel from getting into that genre. With all the fights, frustration, sexual innuendos and violent sex and rape, one may think it to be a dystopian book. But deep down, Kurniawan has written a love story. It’s just a plight of a young boy whose penis can’t get hard, who feels miserable in love because despite being a man he’s not a man, a young man whose rage is left without a vent, and that vent leaves him beaten, bruised and weak every time he’s in the arena. Kurniawan weaves the narration beautifully with tragedy and humour. The one liners and repartees show the author’s sharp wit. The book portrays the hardships of Indonesian life with underrated sarcasm about the administration and organised crime. However, I was expecting more details on this, maybe Kurniawan would write another book on this sometime. I also expected a better climax. In this matter the book proved like sex. With so much hype in the beginning, by the time we reach the end, we realise it was all so overrated.
And by the way, don’t go on the thin volume of the copy, the material inside is exponential.
Also, a word for the publishers here. It’s often seen that the authors from the West and European countries are given a god-like treatment by the publishing houses in our country. International bestsellers mostly are limited to English and other popular writers. The works of Asian writers is mostly undervalued and underrepresented. Speaking Tiger needs to be congratulated in this regard. If it was not for this publication house, we would have been devoid of such a remarkable book by a neighbouring country. I am definitely going to pick another book by the author.