Looking at the three scratches on the door, Margio realised his newfound tigress, as white as a swan, has not left him, but is rather inside him; residing at the pit of his belly.
Originally published by Verso in 2004 as ‘Lelaki Harimau’, ‘Man Tiger’ by Eka Kurniawan has been translated by Labodalih Sembiring from Indonesian to English in 2015. Kurniawan has won 2015 IKAPI’s Book Of The Year, 2016 Financial Times/ Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices (for Fiction Category) and was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for his second novel.
‘Man Tiger’ can be put under the crime genre, except for the fact that we know the identity of the murderer from the very first sentence. It is more of a whydunit than whodunit.
Polite Margio has killed Anwar Sadat. Biting off and spitting out the flesh of his neck repeatedly. Kurniawan has described the gore with such calmness, comparing a tiny piece of flesh with tofu, that the picture created in the reader’s mind is recklessly vivid; and the men coming to visit the dead have to turn their faces around.
It is fascinating how the author has incorporated his epic-like storytelling, with loads of different characters, their stories, connections and relationships, with such organized precision in just about 170 pages.
‘Man Tiger’ is a novel of Indonesia– complete with the bounds of history and the presently shaped culture- rusted Samurai swords left by the Japanese, the citizens’ ‘private violence’ and the military looking for amusements in a country no longer at war.
The novel can also be put under the magical realism genre, except that the magic element has very little page time, though never loses it’s significance.
In fact, the tigress inside Margio can be a symbolism of the ever-building-but -suppressed rage within him. The element of symbolism is abundant in the novel, like Nureini’s flower jungle grown to make her titled house as ugly as possible.
The detailed and colourful storytelling has made the critiques compare Kurniawan with authors like Garcia Marquez, Dostoevsky, as well as his personal favorite, Pramoedya Ananta Toer; making the readers one with the village – sitting at Aga Sofu’s at the end of the field half-listening to the ever chanting radio, standing across Margio as he butchered his father’s prized rooster,or staring at the replica of Raden Saleh at the front door of Anwar Sadat.