It is very engaging and you connect with the protagonists easily. You need some time to orient yourself in the novel as the author Ayu Utami often changes perspective, but that way you are able to relate to some quite diverse characters. There is Laila and her unrequited love for the married Sihar, who fights for the right of his co-workers. There is Father Athanasius, later called Saman, and his commitment to the plantation workers. And there is Shakuntala in New York, who is one of the four friends who have been connected since school: Laila, Shakuntala, Cok and Yasmin. I was kind of unsatisfied, but satisfied to be wanting to read more as well.
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Saman is an Indonesian novel by Ayu Utami published in It is Utami's first novel, and depicts the lives of four sexually-liberated female friends, and a former Catholic priest, Saman, for whom the book is named. Written in seven to eight months while Utami was unemployed, Saman sold over , copies and ignited a new literary movement known as sastra wangi originally used pejoratively that opened the doors to an influx of sexually-themed literary works by young Indonesian women.
Saman deals explicitly with themes of sexuality, taboo for women writers in Indonesia at that time. She also writes about the supernatural and mysticism. Utami has said the stories reflect some of her personal experiences, such as her loss of religion which mirrors that of the priest, Saman. Utami also includes passages reflecting the destructiveness of Suharto 's political authoritarianism; in later interviews she said the political realities reflected in Saman are still applicable to post-Suharto Indonesia.
Critical reception was mixed. Some critics praised the richness of its language, while others derided the novel for its sexual explicitness and questioned whether it was Utami's own work. The novel eventually was hailed for its groundbreaking portrayal of a woman's views of sexuality.
As of [update] , it has been translated into six languages and won several awards, including the Prince Claus Award. A film adaptation is in the making. Saman follows four sexually liberated female friends: Yasmin, a married Catholic lawyer from Medan ; Cok, a Balinese lawyer with a high libido; Shakuntala, a bisexual Catholic Javanese dancer; and Laila, a Muslim Minangkabau journalist.
The other protagonist is the titular Saman, a former Catholic priest turned human rights activist who becomes the target of sexual advances by Yasmin and Cok. The first chapter, beginning in Central Park , New York, describes Laila waiting for the married Sihar and planning to lose her virginity to him.
Eventually Laila realises that Sihar is with his wife, and feels depressed. The second chapter covers Saman's childhood—including his relationship with his mother, a woman drawn to the spiritual world—his entry into priesthood, and his attempt to protect a rubber tapping community from the attempt by a local plantation to acquire their land. After the attempt fails and the plantation's hired thugs raze the community to the ground and kills those who resist, Saman is captured and tortured.
He eventually is broken out of his confinement by the surviving resistance members, becoming a fugitive and relinquishing his duty as a priest. He becomes a human rights advocate, assisted by Yasmin. The third chapter, written from the point of view of Shakuntala, tells how Yasmin, Cok, Shakuntala, and Laila met at high school and their escapades there, both sexual and academic.
Shakuntala recounts a fantasy she had as a teenager about meeting a "foreign demon", embracing him and then having a debate on the different cultural aspects of sexuality.
Towards the end of the chapter, Shakuntala notes that she is attracted to Laila and dislikes Sihar, but supports her friend's efforts as she cares for her.
Although both Cok and the married Yasmin make advances toward him, he initially declines. However, during the middle of the night he and Yasmin have sex, but Saman is distressed because he ejaculated quickly. The entirety of the last chapter consists of emails sent between Saman and Yasmin, discussing their insecurities, that become increasingly sexualised.
However, after the character Larung became too developed Utami split the storylines. Saman was published first, with Larung following in Saman was written during a period of seven to eight months while Utami was unemployed. Junaidi of The Jakarta Post suggests that the political insights in Saman are partially inspired by Utami's earlier career as a journalist, both with Forum Keadilan and as a founding member of the Alliance of Independent Journalists.
Junaidi notes that although Saman is about a female's perspective of sexuality, it also deals with the authoritarianism of Suharto 's regime of the New Order , including the repression of human rights activists. In a interview with The Jakarta Post , Utami said that her critique of the New Order is still relevant; at the time of the interview, she saw the Suharto government as having left Indonesia with a legacy of what she calls "nuclear waste", including a loss of Indonesia's agricultural ability.
Utami has also noted that the novel is a reflection of her own restlessness and anxiety. Although little of it directly reflects events in her life, she notes that Saman's loss of religion reflects her own, and the book reflects her belief that a double standard exists regarding virginity in Indonesian culture.
Barbara Hatley notes that Saman contrasts the perceived differences between Eastern and Western cultures. She cites the scene where Shakuntala fantasizes encountering a "foreign demon" European explorer while bathing, later "embracing" him and discussing the "bizarre" requirement that Asian men are required to wear penis decorations and the "crassness" of Europeans who do not care about virginity, wear bikinis in public, and show sex on television.
According to Hatley, this is rendered more ironic by both characters being naked during the discussion. Junaidi writes that Saman also includes bits of the supernatural, including ghosts and mysticism. Saman was released in  after winning the Jakarta Art Institute novel writing contest. By , it had been translated into Dutch and English;  the English translation took a long time to write because Utami was concerned that an overexplanation of the novel caused it to lose all of its sensuality.
As of [update] , a translation into Korean is underway. Some critics praised the "rich language" used in the novel. In Saman Utami became one of the first female Indonesian authors to explicitly discuss sexuality, generally a taboo subject for women, in her work. The novel started a new era of literature after the downfall of President Suharto  and ignited the sastra wangi literally 'fragrant literature' literary movement as well as an influx of sexually themed literary works by women. As of [update] a film adaptation is in the works, with Dutch screenwriter Orlow Seunke expressing interest to be involved with the project.
However, Seunke and Utami have had creative differences regarding which characters should be kept. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Asrianti, Tifa 27 December The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 25 September Campbell, Micaela University of Victoria. Garcia, Michael Nieto 1 October Inside Indonesia. Archived from the original on 19 December Retrieved 19 December Hatley, Barbara Women in Indonesia: Gender, Equity and Development.
Indonesia assessment series. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Listyowulan, Widyasari Ohio University. Utami, Ayu 19 October Archived from the original on 9 October Categories : novels Indonesian speculative fiction novels Novels set in Indonesia Novels set in New York City Feminist novels Sexuality in novels debut novels. Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history.
Ayu Utami: Saman
Book cover image courtesy of Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia. A schoolgirl falls in love with her teacher; a priest defends a rural village and loses faith in God; a woman plans an affair with a married man. At first glance, Saman is a simple love story, keeping with many conventions of that genre. However, as it deals with the thorny issues of religion, sexuality, and governmental oppression, Saman demands a second look. As a result, the book became a magnet for both controversy and acclaim, winning the Jakarta Arts Council Novel Competition, the Prince Claus Award, and selling more than , copies in Indonesia alone.
Saman by Ayu Utami
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