Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan


“One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty one years.”

Beauty is a Wound. Cantik itu Luka. Just like Herman Melville’s opening line from Moby Dick, Beauty is a Wound has captured me as a reader right from the very start.  This line has promoted a sense of mystery, and a sense of suspense, and it has propelled me on the book. Beauty is a Wound revolves around the history of Indonesia, with a touch of fantasy. Nominated for the Man Brooker awards and being a close finalist, this book is both quality and quantity.

The story follows the story of Dewi Ayu, a whore–yes, a whore–and how both her and the characters interconnected to her fell into a tragedy. Dewi Ayu is described to be a very beautiful lady at first glance, although she has a lot of wit that comes with the beauty. A whore isn’t the perfect “Mary Sue character”, and Dewi Ayu has her flaws. But she has escaped death, and survived through a war in the Dutch, the Second World war, and Indonesa’s independence. I’ve known the lengths both human and animal would go to just to survive, and Dewi Ayu becoming a whore just to be able to grab a chance in living a life of luxury to escape the concentration camp is just one story in millions of stories.

Dewi Ayu had a rough history from the start. She was a descendant of the Dutch, and already had a length of issues behind her family tree. Her parents were son and daughter disowned for being an incest, and her real grandmother was a concubine who was torn away from her sweetheart, shortly killing herself afterward. The people that raised her was killed after attempting to flee from the war by drowning in a ship wreck. Dewi Ayu was more less an orphan at such a young age.

Dewi Ayu isn’t just the only layer of this story. Like every other epic sagas that I’ve read before, We get to see the perspective from many different characters in this story. We get to meet Dewi Ayu’s four daughters, three of them very beautiful and one of them ugly, and how their own stories interact with each other. We get to meet the three men who caused a lot of love triangles between each daughter, and we even get a glimpse how bad Indonesia’s rough history really was.

This story took a shift between five generations, starting from Dewi Ayu’s grandparents, to a little bit about her parents, to Dewi Ayu herself, her daughters, and finally her grandchildren. However, this story does fall into tragedy in the end where everybody ends up without their happy ending. It’s more like this story has taken a twisted realistic sense that nothing lasts forever.

There is a point in the book where it appears that the character has nearly got their happy ending, like Maman Gendeng and Maya Dewi’s ending, where Maman Gendeng believes that he has finally found his true love. From a street fighter, he had changed himself for the better. He had a  beautiful baby daughter which he named Regganis, also known as Regganis the Beautiful. A normal fairy tale would pan out to the background after this. But no. Skip towards the final chapters of the book, when we find out that Regganis the beautiful has gotten ‘raped’ by a dog in the school toilet. And then suddenly she’s dead, her body thrown into the sea.

Imagine that untimely ending.

I love this book. With each perspective shift, I either find myself hating a character but then switching into loving them. I find myself hating Sodancho for forcing Alamanda to love him although she’s in love with Kliwon, but pitying him when his story ends in a really gruesome way. It makes me realize how complicated and complex human nature is. There are parts that we can really love about someone, but there are parts that we really hate. This book isn’t a pretty book. It’s gruesome. It reminds me of Mo Yan’s own saga Big Breast And Wide Hips, and the Kitab Omong Kosong book

I’ve read the reviews that this book has been given in Goodreads. Readers either really love this book because of the very interesting twists and turns that are provided, or really hate it because of the graphic way certain things are described. But well, it’s their own opinion anyways. I find this book a very enjoying read, from the start to  the finish. I am done with this book in less than three days, due to its quick pace.

This book was very close to win the Man Booker international Prize, the same category in which Ruth Ozeki’s the Tale of the Time Being has won back in 2013. Eka Kurniawan is the first ever Indonesian writer to be so close to win the Man Booker award. This book itself was a finalist. Eka Kurniawan was born in West Java in Pangandaran, and his books have been translated into many, many languages. Beauty is a Wound has also appeared as the top hundred notable books by New York Times.

I had read a lot of Eka Kurniawan books, including Man Tiger, O and the collection of short stories of Perempuan Patah Hati yang Kembali Menemukan Cerita Melalui Mimpi. Eka Kurniawan is one of my favorite writers, and I can’t wait to read more of his books.


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