In Conversation with Leila S. Chudori

In conversation with Leila

On 13 November, Indonesia Project invites Leila S. Chudori, an Indonesian author and journalist from TEMPO, to talk about her creative process and the socio-political ambience against which she constructs her literary works. In this conversation, the Project also invites Amrih Widodo and Danang Widyoko to comment on, not only Leila’s new book Laut Bercerita (The Sea Speaks His Name, 2017) but also many of her previous works.

In her latest book, The Sea Speaks His Name, she tells a story of the loss felt by the families and friends of disappeared students and political activists during the tumultuous days in 1998 that led to the fall of President Soeharto and his New Order regime in Indonesia. It is a story about those whose chests feel empty inside, and their search for the knowledge of what happened to their loved ones. It is about betrayal and torture by those for whom power is more valuable than other people’s lives.

Amrih Widodo, a Cultural Anthropologist from the ANU, noted three things about Leila’s line of work. First, despite serious theme she undertook, Leila words and writing technique, can speak to the younger generation easily. Second, Leila focus on family ritual. “From the perspective of the anthropology of religion, a ritual is very important in constructing pre-rational conception.” The idea of lost in Leila’s new novel is derived from the ritual Leila’s construct in the story and then suddenly the ritual stop. Third, Leila’s work tries to explain history through its fiction writing. “Writing fiction is a way to escape the restriction of writing history,” Amrih said.

An activist himself in 1998, reading Leila’s new book brought Danang Widyoko personal experience when he was a student in Salatiga, Indonesia. “Most of the pictures and videos about the 1998 usually centralise in how student occupied the parliament building. But Leila’s [novel] show different things, particularly prior the big demonstration in 1998,” Danang assessed. Furthermore, Danang argues that pressure from student movement is essential, together with the fact that Soeharto had lost a lot of backup from the elite. The elite would not have been abandoned the support for Soeharto without such big demonstration from the student movement.

You can listen to the conversation here.