Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Book Review: An Exorcist Tells His Story

Title: An Exorcist Tells His Story; Seorang Eksorsis Menceritakan Kisahnya
Author: Gabriele Amorth
Publisher: Ignatius Press; Marian Centre Indonesia
Country: Italy
Pages: 205 pages (paperback); 259 pages (paperback)
Genre: Catholic, true story, angels and demons, exorcism

This book is NOT:

1) a collection of horror stories. If you want such stories, go see The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Granted, this book presents an assortment of possession stories, but does not go into great gory details. And if present, the stories mainly serve as illustrations for the theological/pastoral descriptions. If you're expecting a freak show, you'll be disappointed;

2) a recollection of an exorcist's day-to-day life. It's not even a recollection of an exorcist's job!;

3) an anthology of exorcism ritual texts;

4) a detailed explanation on demonology or angelology;

5) a fairytale-natured book aiming to sow the seeds of false optimism and arrogance about human's power over the demons.

What the book IS:

1) Catholic and Christ-centered. Definitely!;

2) an honest (neither exaggerating nor underestimating) description about the nature of demons and demonic activities;

3) an "Exorcism 101".

What I mean by "Exorcism 101" is that Fr. Amorth's book does not place a special emphasis on just a single aspect of exorcism. Rather, it touches on many factors: the nature of Christ, the angels, and the demons; forms and characteristics of diabolic activities; and the basic theories of exorcism---what it is, who can do it, when should it be done, why it should it be done, and how it should be done.

Although not by any means extensive, readers will be pleasantly fulfilled, and believers especially, will likely to have their faith renewed. Fr. Amorth's book is powerful indeed; it serves as a reminder (or warning?) for us that the force of evil very much exists and is very active.

This review is also available on Goodreads.

Book Review: Of Bees and Mist

Title: Of Bees and Mist; Kabut Masa Lalu
Author: Erick Setiawan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; GagasMedia
Country: United States of America
Pages: 404 pages (paperback); 507 pages (paperback)
Genre: Literary fiction, magic realism, fantasy

There's a lot to say about this fascinating book. First of all, if this is your first magic realism, the story may come off as rather messy at first. You'll see curious things thrown at you at seemingly random places and time, and these things don't just pass by; they actually move the story forward. Secondly, you must have an open mind, somewhat a high imagination to suspend your disbelief and accept Setiawan's world. If you can do that, you'll get a charming household drama that is both familiar and otherworldly.

The basic premise is quite straightforward and rather soap opera-ish. Mainly it is about a female protagonist who is caught in a feud between two houses. In the first few chapters, when the protagonist is young, it seems that her enemies are her own house—her parents, and the house itself. But as the story progresses, with her marriage with Daniel of the other house, it turns out that her true nemesis is her almost-satanic mother-in-law.

What makes it different from soap operas is, you guessed it, the use of magical elements. In Setiawan's world, magic is commonplace, and is both utilitarian and superstitious. There are ghosts in the mirrors, there are colorful mists at the doorstep, there are mysterious bees and fireflies that seem to have an impact on the people they're surrounding. The wording of many of the sentences is deliberate, so as to give you a sense of magic even without the presence of actual magic. But Setiawan manages to stay true to reality, despite the surreal environments. Although strange juxtapositions are everywhere, they all have certain meanings once you get used to it. Of Bees and Mist is not an adult fairytale. Sometimes it's heartwarming, sometimes it's heart-wrenching. Characters are three dimensional, actions are believable, motives are understandable.

The pace of the story varies; sometimes it is fast and exciting, sometimes it is slower, but never dragging. It's definitely rather slow at the beginning, which, combined with the feeling of "strangeness" especially for readers new to magic realism, can produce either a big question mark or a big ho-hum, both leading to giving up early. My suggestion is: be patient, and bear with the author a bit more. You will quickly keep up with what's happening.

It can be a bit confusing to describe this book in mere words. I say just give this book a go. But keep in mind that magic realism is not everyone's cup of tea. Objectively, I think Of Bees and Mist is a great story. Yet I also can see why some people would dislike it.

This review is also available on Goodreads.

Pictured above is the cover of the Indonesian translation. The cover for the original edition published in the USA is:

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Book Review: Garis Batas

Judul: Garis Batas
Penulis: Agustinus Wibowo
Penerbit: Gramedia Pustaka Utama
Negara: Indonesia
Tebal: 528 hlm (paperback)
Genre: Travel

Waktu kecil, saya pernah berangan-angan pergi ke negara-negara Stan. Ini gara-gara saya menemukan gambar bendera aneh berwarna biru muda bergambar elang dan matahari kuning (ternyata bendera Kazakhstan). Bendera yang warna biru halusnya mencolok di antara-antara bendera-bendera negara lain yang biasanya berwarna cerah dan berani. Tetapi seiring berjalannya waktu, saya melihat sepertinya negara-negara Stan ini tidak ada di dalam daftar tujuan turis manapun. Pun, tidak ada buku-buku travel yang sibuk menjajakan negara-negara misterius ini.

Terima kasih kepada Agustinus Wibowo, kini saya boleh mencicipi impian masa kecil saya meskipun hanya melalui lembar-lembar kertas. Catatan perjalanan Agustinus ini sungguh lain dari yang lain. Tadinya saya menyangka akan melihat daftar harga hotel, rumah makan, dan daftar tempat-tempat wisata yang tak boleh dilewatkan, seperti dalam banyak buku travel lainnya yang lebih banyak narsis daripada informatif.

Tetapi buku ini lain. Agustinus bertindak lebih jauh daripada sekedar mengumpulkan informasi teknis dan menjadikan bukunya just another Lonely Planet. Agustinus mengangkat bukunya menjadi sebuah karya sastra, sebuah "literatur perjalanan", bukan hanya "buku jalan-jalan". Kisah-kisah kesehariannya sebagai seorang perantau di tanah Stan, dijalin secara apik dengan pengetahuan agama, sejarah, dan budaya, baik setempat maupun dunia. Bagi yang tidak suka digurui, buku ini tidak menggurui. Buku ini justru mengajak kita untuk membuka mata serta pikiran terhadap sekumpulan negara Islam bekas Soviet yang kini menjadi bangsa-bangsa yang enigmatik, tidak terjamah, tidak terwakilkan dalam pentas global, namun ada dan bersikeras untuk hidup.

Alur cerita Agustinus cukup mampu membawa saya (dengan sukarela) masuk ke sudut-sudut terbaik dan tergelap dari tiap negeri. Di beberapa tempat sedikit tersendat, dan pada awalnya agak membosankan karena penulis sepertinya berputar-putar terus di sekitar Sungai Amu Darya (teriak saya: "Iyaaaa... saya tahu sungai itu indah, sungai itu hebat, sungai itu agung, sungai itu pemisah yang kejam, tapi lanjut dooonggg..."). Untungnya Agustinus cepat-cepat "mengungsi" ke daratan dan memulai petualangannya. Saya juga suka cara Agustinus melihat masyarakat, keadaan kota, politik, agama, dan budaya dari berbagai segi. Rasa humornya yang kering ("dry wit") cukup berhasil menambah bumbu kemalangan dalam kisah-kisahnya. (Jangan heran, buku ini memang dipenuhi dengan kemalangan, kesederhanaan, kesialan, dan ke- ke- lainnya yang membuat jantung berdebar)

Tidak akan menyesal membaca buku ini. Saya memang belum pernah melihat sendiri negeri-negerinya, tetapi saya pikir, Agustinus has done them justice :)

This review also available in: Goodreads

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The "Hail Mary" in Afrikaans and Indonesian

A South African friend of mine taught me this version of the Hail Mary in Afrikaans.

Wees gegroet, Maria, vol genade, die Here is met u.
Geseënd is u onder die vroue 
en geseënd is Jesus, die vrug van u skoot.
Heilige Maria, moeder van God, bid vir ons sondaars,
nou en in die uur van ons dood. Amen.

I want to use this opportunity to also share with you the Indonesian version of "Hail Mary":

Salam, Maria, penuh rahmat, Tuhan sertamu
Terpujilah engkau di antara wanita
Dan terpujilah buah tubuhmu, Yesus.
Santa Maria, Bunda Allah, doakanlah kami yang berdosa ini
Sekarang, dan waktu kami mati. Amin.

Well, Twitter time well spent!

Do you have your language's versions of Hail Mary and other Catholic prayers? Feel free to share them with the world!