Book Review of Saman, by Ayu Utami

Saman, by Aya Utami is one of those paperbacks that has been on my shelf so long that I no longer remember how it got there. I’m imagine I bought it at some point, perhaps someone left it in the Little Free Library, I don’t know.

Description from Goodreads:

Saman is a story filtered through the lives of its feisty female protagonists and the enigmatic “hero” Saman. It is at once an expose of the oppression of plantation workers in South Sumatra, a lyrical quest to understand the place of religion and spirituality in contemporary lives, a playful exploration of female sexuality and a story about love in all its guises, while touching on all of Indonesia’s taboos: extramarital sex, political repression and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. 


I think maybe a lot of this just went over my head. I loved Saman as a character and I liked the others well enough. I recognized the thread that held them all together as a cast. I appreciate that the book pushed boundaries when published in Indonesia, touching on the cruelty and oppression in famers’ lives, repressive sexual attitudes, religion, transmigration and politics, etc. But in the actual reading of it, I thought the whole thing felt disjointed. At one point (about halfway through) I actually turned the book over to reread the synopsis to ensure it wasn’t actually a series of interconnected short stories. And the little twist at the end (especially the last two emails) came so out of left field that I was left baffled. For all that, there is some beautiful writing here and Saman is a character you can’t help but root for.

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