a book review

Translator : Venny Tania

Writer: Rena Asyari

Her age was 14 and she hasn’t had her menstruation. “The Girl from The Coast”, people call her. On one gloomy morning, The Girl from The Coast was brought by her parents to the town, to be married off to a priyayi nobleman.

The nobleman had proposed to her earlier with keris dagger as his representation. For priyayi nobleman, whatever thing can represent himself as long as he wants it.

The girl had a new life, living in completely closed rooms. All this time she played with nature, the sea is the one who gives life to her, the wind gives her breath, mother nature takes care of her. Her feet were used to be licked by seawater, her hands are skilled at sewing fishnets and drying fishes, punding shrimps, and making shrimp paste.

Her life changed, only fear was left. In a luxurious mansion, there was no freedom, only wait for or give commands. No one is more powerful than her husband, Bendoro. Someone she had never met or known before, a stranger that suddenly made her a wife. Not even gods.

With only breath left on her body, her soul had long gone. She didn’t dare to speak anything, Bendoro’s mansion was too imperious for her to be a residence. Fortunately, there was an old maid that became her friend, a maid that destined to be a servant for the whole life. Born as a servant is a punishment, perforce to be undergo, said the old maid one day.

Like the other Pramoedya’s books, The Girl from The Coast also shakes the conscience. With story background on Central Java’s coast, Rembang, several years after Raden Ajeng Kartini married with Rembang’s mayor. Pramoedya blends his writing with emotions, deeply criticizing the Javanese feudalism system which has no courtesy and the soul of humanity.

In that mansion, The Girl from The Coast has ‘Mas Nganten’ as her title. No one can give order to Mas Nganten, not even her parents. The girl tried to get loose from this rule “I am just a humble child of my mother, on my village, I used to follow all of her commands, and I would always be like that.” But her screaming is just like a hope that vanished in the night wind. Mas Nganten could not have a close relationship with her parents, as they had different caste to her. Now her parents must respect and bow down before her.

Only her old maid accompanied The Girl in her loneliness. “When we commit some wrongdoings, wherever it happens, we will suffer, Mas Nganten,” advised by the maid. “Lowly person like me, Mas Nganten, every day can fall thousand times, but she always rises and stand up again. She was destined to stands up every day.”

And so in that mansion, everyone stabs each other, whimpering for honor and food. It had been a different situation back at her village, where the sea always provides its hands for humans. Not one day the sea ignoring them, it is always full of love, and it never asks for a return.

For two years Mas Nganten lived in restriction, she missed her village that had always been hugged her warmly, with smiles of its people. Mas Nganten went home someday, escorted by Mardi the coachman and Mardinah, Bendoro’s niece. Mas Nganten was silently sicked with Mardinah, the female Bendoro from Demak. As her father was a clerk (respectable position in Hindia Belanda at that time), Mardinah condescended the village people. “People from the city worry when other people don’t respect them anymore. They are too afraid of being forced to respect the village people. In the eyes of them, poverty is a mistake in life.”

The Girl from the coast reached her village, but the situation there has already changed. People’s attitude towards her was not the same again. Everyone called her Bendoro, including her father and mother. Everyone took a necessary distance, there was no more intimacy and warmth. Every person in her village cast down one’s eyes when they met her. The girl was hurt, she felt like she was knocked down.  But mother sea still hugged her.

For the sea, the girl was always her daughter who drank her milk. In her hometown, the girl enjoyed her freedom; she could sleep anywhere, even outside her house without fear. The door is only a guardian for the wind to not come inside the house. Fisherman village serves a place for anyone, no matter where they come from. The sea belongs to everyone. On the contrary, in the big city, everything must be in order and limit. Everyone must have a name and origin.

The girl must comply with her fate as a slave. After she bore her child, the girl was kicked out of the mansion. Bendoro didn’t need her anymore. She was just a trial for Bendoro, before he married a real wife, a noblewoman which of the same level as him.

Unable to change her fate, the girl’s way was determined by her descendant. She is a child from fisherman village, forever will be a retainer. Honorable status is only available for noble priyayi people.  The noble priyayi people block all access to achievement, luxury, and prestige only for them and their descendants.

Then the girl from the coast remembered her conversation with her father when he accompanied her to Bendoro’s house first time. “Father, father, I don’t need anything from this world. I just need my loved ones, open hearts, smile, and laugh of the world without woe or fear. Father, father.”

The girl from the coast in the end, felt she was strengthless to go back and step on the sea again. She chose to stay in Blora, following the old maid that had been dismissed by Bendoro. The girl chose her own way, decided not to go  back to her village, cause she wanted a better life free from fear. She didn’t return to her parents as she has understood that life is not about depending on others, but how to be independent.

The Girl from The Coast is a romance published in 1962 by Lentera, as a portrait of old time. Indeed, events often repeat themselves, as if the past comes and presents itself again among us.