Suparto Brata’s “Saksi Mata”: Common people can be a hero

saksimataSaksi Mata (Eyewitness); By Suparto Brata; Kompas Book Publisher,
Jakarta, January 2002; ix + 434 pp

Suparto is best known as an author of Javanese literature, having written more than 110 works, half of them in Javanese. For his contributions to regional language and literature, he received the Rancage Award in 2000 and 2001, being honored particularly for his acclaimed Trem, a compilation of short stories in Javanese from the 1950s to 2000.

Saksi Mata, first published as a serial in the Kompas daily from November 1997 to April 1998, tells of a smart, brave boy named Kuntara, living in Surabaya during the Japanese occupation of the country in World War II.

The 12-year-old boy is infatuated with an older woman named Rumsari, a daughter of the Surakarta royal family who is distantly related to him and treats him kindly. He calls her Bulik (Auntie) Rum.

Kuntara unexpectedly spies Bulik Rum making love to a stranger in a bunker, who he later finds out is her husband, Wiradad. The couple are plotting to kill the Japanese military officer Ichiro Nishizumi and destroy his arsenal Ichiro had tried to force Prince Prabu, Bulik Rum’s father, to give him his daughter in marriage. However, the prince married Rumsari to Wiradad, a young man who is a chemistry expert and works at an ammunition factory.

However, Ichiro takes Rumsari to Surabaya, making her not only his office assistant but also a sex slave. Rumsari tells Kuntara all about Ichiro, the situation at the office and her plot with Wiradad to kill Ichiro. However, the next day she is killed and it is Kuntara’s task to fight on against the Japanese officer.

Saksi Mata is a sociological novel with Surabaya as its setting, and shows that the most seemingly common people can perform heroic acts. Unfortunately, there are many instances in the novel when the Surabaya dialect, Javanese and Japanese are used but not translated, which is disappointing for readers who are not fluent in those languages.

However, this novel enriches Indonesian fiction by focusing on a difficult period in our history which has long been neglected by writers.

— Darul Aqsha

On the Shelves
The Jakarta Post
Sun, May 05 2002

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