Amba: The Question of Red
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â€˜[Amba] signals Laksmi Pamuntjakâ€™s bravery and scope as a writer, and may yet prove to be a landmark work of Southeast Asian writing.â€™
â€”Tash Aw, author of Five Star Billionaire and The Harmony Silk Factory
Myth, culture and politics weave together in a beguiling tale of profound love.
Named after a tragic figure in Indonesiaâ€™s and Indiaâ€™s shared mythology, Amba spends her lifetime trying to invent a story she can call her own. When she meets two suitors who fit perfectly into her namesakeâ€™s myth, Amba cannot help but feel that fate is teasing her. Salwa, respectful to a fault, pledges to honour and protect her, no matter what. Bhisma, a sophisticated European-trained doctor, offers her sensual pleasures and a world of ideas.
In this devastating novel of love and redemption, empathy and forgiveness, Amba, Bhisma and Salwa attempt to undo the ancient legend of the Mahabharataâ€”that timeless allegory of war within a familyâ€”with tragic consequences, as the story moves from rural Java to Europe and to the prison camps of Buru Island, where approximately 12,000 alleged communists were incarcerated without trial during the Suharto dictatorship. Through its memorable cast of charactersâ€”each of them a metaphor for the vast diversity that is Indonesiaâ€”the novel asks us not to see history in terms of â€˜blackâ€™ and â€˜whiteâ€™, â€˜goodâ€™ and â€˜evilâ€™, but highlights, instead, the grey zones of human existence and the human spirit. It also shows us ways in which men and women often attain their highest humanity at the point of destruction.
Laksmi Pamuntjak is a bilingual Indonesian novelist, poet, essayist, journalist, and an award-winning food writer. Amba: The Question of Red, her bestselling first novel, won Germanyâ€™s LiBeraturpreis 2016 and was named #1 on Germanyâ€™s Fall 2015 Weltempfaenger list of the best works of fiction translated into German from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Arab world. The novel was also shortlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2012 and appeared on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungâ€™s Top 8 list of the best books of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015. Pamuntjak was the Indonesian representative for Poetry Parnassus at the 2012 London Olympics. Her bestselling second novel, Aruna and Her Palate, will be published in the US and Germany in 2017. Her latest publication is There Are Tears In Things: Collected Poems and Prose (2001-2016). She works as an art and food consultant, writes opinion articles on culture and politics for the Guardian, and divides her time between Berlin and Jakarta.