Sun, 24 Aug 2003

Nh. Dini: A writer bravely bares her soul

Lie Hua Contributor Jakarta

A novelist weaves words into a mosaic of events to get across a particular message. The events are those that the novelist has gone through, observed or heard in daily life.

Imaginary events make up the world of a novel in which the characters may or may not resemble real people. These characters are interesting because they may, partly if not wholly, represent the reader in the chain of events that the writer has put in a certain order.

A novel has the power to absorb a reader into the world that the novelist has created through his imagination. When reading a novel, a reader sojourns in an imaginary world, getting acquainted with a variety of characters and, sometimes, involving himself, at least emotionally, in the chain of events that make up the novel.

When a novelist writes about himself, he will be expected to have a more observant attitude toward the events that he has gone through in the real world. Of course, the order of events cannot be arranged to his liking because they are in the order that the Creator -- if you believe in the existence of the omnipotent God -- has determined.

However, a novelist's sensitivity may give a literary touch to a story about a series of otherwise hard, dry facts. It is in this context that the difference between a novel and a novelist's autobiography becomes blurred.

NH Dini is one of the country's most prolific and long- standing novelists, and also one of the few Indonesian novelists who has written an autobiography or memoirs. Prior to this latest book of reminiscences, she has five others to her name, all telling of her life, from her earliest years up to the period covered in the book under review.

In this particular book, Dini lays bare in a touching manner how her married life was ruined by the callous attitude of Yves, the husband of her choice. A French diplomat, Yves proved during her marriage to be the opposite of the charming man she first met.

Yet, as a true Javanese, she never regretted her choice and accepted the consequences of her actions. It does not mean, though, she never resisted her husband's coarse treatment of her. Often, in anger mixed with anguish, she stood up to him and showed that as a woman she is not to be despised.

It is interesting to find out that in her despair about ever mending her marriage, Dini found solace in the figure of a sea captain that she met on a voyage to Kampuchea, or Cambodia, the country where her husband was stationed as a French consul.

This part of Dini's life -- her real love with somebody with absolute, unconditional affection -- is touching as Dini describes the relationship in a polished, unsensational manner. There is none of the expected sordidness in the story of a love affair between a married woman and another man.

The captain, Delrouin, loves her and gives Dini what Yves cannot or will not in his own selfishness. It makes for interesting reading as Dini shows the relatively long process before she finally allows herself to fall into the embrace of this man.

While on the voyage, Dini feels love stir when she meets Delrouin but she still keeps a distance, remembering the sanctity of her marital vows. She garners all her strength to resist, although with much difficulty, the temptation of her feelings for the man.

Her dignity is wounded when, after arriving in Cambodia, she finds her husband having an intimate dinner with another woman in a hotel. From the hotel receptionist she learns that her husband is staying there with his "wife" -- his legal spouse.

Stung by the betrayal, she responds eagerly to an invitation to meet Delrouin, then assigned on a vessel bound for Saigon.

At this point, Dini -- despite claiming that she has not done it out of spite or revenge -- allows free reign to her passion by consummating her affair with Delrouin.

Ironically, Delrouin also refers to Dini as Mrs. Delrouin when they stay in a hotel before embarking on the vessel. It is in her love for Delrouin that Dini feels herself to be the richest woman in the world, a feeling always denied her in her relations with Yves.

This book of reminiscences is interesting to read as it portrays the various characters Dini meets. Dini presents them to us in the same way she portrays the imaginary people in her novels. The dialog is crisp and fresh, revealing the character traits of each person; it would read like a novel except for the explanatory label of book of reminiscences on its jacket.

The work would be more interesting and useful to the reader if Dini, as the wife of a French diplomat, could combine her narration of the events that she has gone through and the happenings of major significance in the context of world history, providing us with her perspective.

Another woman writer, Han Suyin, did just that, engaging readers with her eloquent and detailed description not only of her own life but of the history of modern China in a five-volume autobiography. NH Dini has this same potential as a writer, and must tap it in her next volumes of reminiscences.

Dari Parangakik ke Kampuchea (From Parangakik to Kampuchea) NH Dini PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama Jakarta, 2003 436 pp