The epic novel Beauty Is a Wound combines history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humor, and romance in a sweeping polyphony. The beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu and her four daughters are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. Kurniawan’s gleefully grotesque hyperbole functions as a scathing critique of his young nation’s troubled past: the rapacious offhand greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million “Communists,” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule.
Beauty Is a Wound astonishes from its opening line: One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years… . Drawing on local sources—folk tales and the all-night shadow puppet plays, with their bawdy wit and epic scope—and inspired by Melville and Gogol, Kurniawan’s distinctive voice brings something luscious yet astringent to contemporary literature.
Brash, worldly and wickedly funny, Eka Kurniawan may be South-East Asia’s most ambitious writer in a generation.
Eka’s approach in Beauty… mixes seriousness with irreverence, juxtaposing historical fact and magical realism in a manner reminiscent of Salman Rushdie.
—Clarissa Oon, ArtReview Asia
Beauty is a Wound is an epic of a kind that could only come from the pen of an Indonesian, with vivid imagination and cruel humor.
—Sam Twyford-Moore, The Australian
Beauty is a Wound is a sprawling work—seen through the eyes of Halimunda’s gangsters, rebels, prostitutes and gravediggers—that obliquely covers the history of Indonesia from the late colonial period onwards.
The howling masterpiece of 2015…a sheer burst of particular talent.
—Chigozie Obioma, The Millions
Sprawling, loquacious tale.
—The Boston Globe
A fairy tale can lose its charm, curdling for lack of much to care about, but in Beauty, the strangeness comes alive with need.
—John Domini, The Chicago Tribune
Kurniawan’s momentous, darkly humorous chronicle—moving from the last days of Dutch rule to the mass killings of the 1960s—brilliantly captures Indonesia’s spirit.
American literature has been missing Kurniawan, without even being aware, until now, of our loss—a situation that Annie Tucker’s dauntless translation, in particular, has helped to remedy.
—Hilary Plum, Bookforum
Kurniawan is a tremendously exciting and promising writer.
—Tim Hannigan, Caixin online
It’s an astonishing, polyphonic epic, a melange of satire, grotesquerie, and allegory that incorporates everything from world history to local folk talks.
—Phillip Pantuso, Brooklyn Magazine
An arresting portrait of Indonesia’s struggle for nationhood, delights in obscenity: no topic is spared from its bloodthirsty brand of satire.
—Gillian Terzis, The New Yorker
This Indonesian folkloric epic is lush and picaresque, marking the English-language debut of a master novelist not to be missed.
—Natalie Beach, O Magazine
Gracefully translated by Annie Tucker, the writing is evocative and muscular, with particularly spicy descriptions and some good wry humor.
—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times
A lush, raucous, and fabulous saga.
A vivid, bawdy, and arresting epic painted with bold strokes on a vast canvas. Highly recommended.
One of the few influential writers in the country.
—Agus Noor, Jakarta Post
Man Tiger and Beauty Is a Wound constitute a retort from the present to the dark times, while also acknowledging that the dark times may not yet be over. Against the killings of those years and the collective amnesia used to blank out the fate of the victims — a kind of second death, as it were — Kurniawan’s fiction summons its legions of ghosts.
—Siddhartha Deb, The New Republic
One of the most exciting fiction writers in Indonesia.
Kurniawan does not merely traffic skillfully in magic realism; his Halimunda — like García Márquez’s Macondo and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County — lets him show how the currents of history catch, whirl, carry away and sometimes drown people.
—Jon Fasman, The New York Times
An unforgettable, all-encompassing epic of Indonesian history, magic, and murder. Indeed, the combination of magic, lore, and pivotal events reverberating through generations will prompt readers to draw parallels between Kurniawan’s Halimunda and García Márquez’s Macondo. But Kurniawan’s characters are all destined for despair and sorrow, and the result is a darker and more challenging read than One Hundred Years of Solitude. An astounding, momentous book.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Kurniawan sets the stage for an epic picaresque that’s equal parts Canterbury Tales and Mahabharata. Weaving back in forth in time, moving from character to character, the author tells the story of Indonesia from its Dutch colonial days, through the Japanese occupation during World War II, and into independence as a modern state. Huge ambition, abundantly realized.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A vivacious translation of a comic but emotionally powerful Indonesian novel.
Without a doubt the most original, imaginatively profound, and elegant writer of fiction in Indonesia today: its brightest and most unexpected meteorite. Pramoedya Ananta Toer has found a successor.