After decades of oppression a wave of feminist literature has swept Indonesia, and Intan Paramaditha is in the vanguard.
Tell us about your book, Apple and Knife.
It’s a collection of short stories about "disobedient women". I re-write well-known fairytales like Cinderella, tales from the Qur’an and Indonesian folklore. These are the tales that we hear often, but they are problematic because usually the women get punished or will be rewarded by getting married... [rewriting] is a way to impose a feminist perspective on the narratives. They are stories about women who resist, but their resistance is situated within specific contexts—they might be housewives without access to power, but within their limited space they fight.
How does your work sit within the context of other feminist writing in Indonesia?
When I first became active in the literary scene, it was a few years after the political reform in Indonesia. It was the end of authoritarianism, so people questioned so many things, including gender constructs, because women had long had to be mothers and wives within a military framework. There were a lot of new women writers at that time who wrote about sex and sexuality, because women’s sexuality had been controlled and repressed. When I started writing, I wanted to do something different: to explore bodies and sexuality in a more grotesque way, looking at the horrific and ugly. So a lot of my stories are quite disconcerting, but I think there are many ways to talk about sexuality within a feminist framework.
As a fluent English speaker, how much are you part of the translating of your books?
My translator is Stephen J Epstein and usually it’s a collaborative process. You want to get all the cultural references right. He would show me drafts and I would read them and propose suggestions, and he would sometimes propose translated words that highlight the sentences more than the original words. I’ve been working closely with him. I think it’s really important to have a translator who understands you and your preferences and politics. He definitely understands a lot about what I believe, the feminist politics. If he did not, it would be very difficult.
You’re published by Harvill Secker in the UK. How did that come about?
I had been told many times it would be hard to find a publisher for a translated collection of short stories. My translator and I didn’t have any target, we just wanted to get published. He's in New Zealand and I’m in Australia, so we thought maybe we should find a publisher in that region. We found Brow Books, which I love because it's very radical in terms of its politics. Then Kelly Falconer from Asia Literary Agency met me at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali and she offered me representation; soon after that she was able to find me a publisher for Apple and Knife and my novel, The Wandering, which will be out in the UK in 2020.