Rejection: A Sumatran Odyssey
Written by Ashadi Siregar
Translated by Jennifer Lindsay
An epic family drama of shamans and jungles, set against the turbulent years following Indonesia’s independence—now finally translated for non-Indonesian readers
The story follows Tondi who as a young man joins the separatist rebellion of the late 1950s and early 1960s in North Sumatra. Later he moves to Java and finds his way in the murky Jakarta underworld. Tondi’s story is interwoven with the magical world of his paternal grandfather, a shaman traditional priest living in the old pre-Islam, pre-Christian world of Batak belief. Tondi’s father deserts the family when Tondi is a child, moves to Jakarta, and joins the Indonesian national army. Tondi’s mother stays in Sumatra and forges a life of her own, for a while working at a hospital with Dutch personnel who return to the former Dutch colony after Indonesian independence.
A central section of the novel describes Tondi’s journey alone through the primeval jungle of North Sumatra, on a mission for the rebel army. His grandfather has given him directions to pass through this rarely-traversed realm where his ancestors used to roam.
In rich and poetic storytelling, Ashadi Siregar portrays the Batak culture of North Sumatra: its language, beliefs, ceremonies, and intricate kinship system. He also vividly depicts a critical period in history when Indonesia was struggling to find its place internationally against the backdrop of the Cold War, while fighting internally to keep the new nation together.
The main characters all have choices to make in this time of love and war and conflicts between the old ways and the new. All reject something, just as the time itself is one of rejection; rejection of past ways; rejection of nationalist ideals; and the Sumatran rebels’ rejection of the centralist Indonesian government.
This English translation of Ashadi Siregar’s groundbreaking historical novel brings a non-Indonesian readership into a fascinating, vast and little known part of Indonesia’s history.