Ikan Tanpa Salah

Alfred Birney
Ikan Tanpa Salah
Galang Press
Yogyakarta 2004
Paperback xv, 277 hlm. 11 x 18 cm
Judul Asli: De onschuld van een vis
Alih bahasa: Widjajanti Dharmowijono
Kata Pengantar: Jakob Sumardjo
Desain: Sri Kuncara
ISBN 979-9341-89-2
Kehabisan persediaan

Edu, seorang guru sejarah, ditugasi ibunya untuk mengosongkan rumah milik ayahnya, pelatih ilmu bela diri yang tidak kembali dari perjalanan ke Indonesia, tanah kelahirannya. Ayah Indo ini, yang memihak Belanda waktu perjuangan kemerdekaan Indonesia, memperlakukan putra-putranya seperti para pemuda pejuang Indonesia yang duluh diinterogasinya. Tapi ia cinta ikan-ikan di akuariumnya. Meski Edu memasuki tempat yang asing baginya, setiap benda di rumah itu membangkitkan kenangan menyakitkan dalam dirinya.Ia terombang-ambing antara kebencian terhadap ayahnya dan kerinduan mengenal dia yang merusak masa kanak-kanaknya. Perasaan itu menimbulkan keinginannya untuk membuat kencan dengan wanita panggilan langganan ayahnya, yang termyata perempuan Indonesia. Bisakah dia mendekatkan Edu kepada sang ayah?

Novel ini menyejajarkan Birney dengan penulis transnasional lainnya seperti Salman Rushdie, yang menggambarkan India dari kediamannya di Inggris, atau Amy Tan, yang melukiskan Cina dengan warna Amerika. – Tempo magazine

Strong rhetoric and enigmatic symbolism make the novel an interesting read as the protagonist walks the thin line between hatred and love. – The Jakarta Post

Features – October 10, 2004

—–Ikan Tanpa Salah (A Blameless Fish) Alfred Birney, Galang Press, 2004 277 pp —–

Birney’s clash of cultures from within
by Sherry Samtani

Indonesia’s fight for freedom from the Dutch in the last century was the driving motif behind all forms of arts, so much so that today many find the subject to be hackneyed. But the recently launched Ikan Tanpa Salah by the Eurasian author Alfred Birney, makes the issue both fresh and contemporary.

A familiar face in Dutch literary circles, Birney still remains relatively unknown here despite his Indonesian heritage. His previous novel, translated from the Dutch original, Lalu Ada Burung (And Then Came a Bird), was a mild success in sales, but was critically acclaimed for its melancholic depiction of the effects of war on the post-war, second generation.

Ikan Tanpa Salah, a translation of De onschuld van een vis with a foreword by Jakob Sumardjo, seems set to follow in its literary footsteps with a similar focus.

The emphasis on the second generation originates from Birney’s own life as the son of a soldier of mixed parentage, who fought for the Netherlands as colonialism was on the wane in the archipelago. His novel, in fact, consists of fictitious elements trickled into a background that is completely his and enriched by his colorful heritage.

The man with the salt and pepper mane was born in The Hague in 1951. Birney’s mother was pure Dutch but his father was a melting pot of cultures — the illegitimate son of a Dutchman who resided in the Dutch East Indies and his Chinese-Indonesian concubine.

Birney’s father was brought up single-handedly by his mother, cementing the Oriental culture that would later be a source of fascination for his own offspring. As Indonesia struggled for freedom, he battled for the Dutch and witnessed firsthand the horrors of war, unyielding memories that haunted him and his family in the years to come.

Being multiracial in the 1950s was no easy task for the young Alfred. Carrying Indonesian genes in a Netherlands that was still bitter about its loss of a lucrative colonial outpost was even harder. Birney struggled from an early age, falling in the shadow between his birthplace and the land of his heritage — a shadow that still shrouded him as he forayed into the literary world.

A musician until the age of 30, a near fatal accident while performing martial arts ended his musical aspirations. A lover of literature, he ventured into writing, drawing inspiration from personal dilemmas — his ambivalence regarding the cultures of either parent, the horror’s of his father’s past and the urgent need to find a sense of belonging.

These three issues are extensively highlighted in Ikan Tanpa Salah. The story centers around Edu, a history teacher, who upon the orders of his mother must empty his father’s house, a martial art’s teacher who departed to his birthplace, Indonesia, and abandoned his entire family.

The father, a didactic, austere mixed Indonesian-Dutch, represented the Netherlands during Indonesia’s freedom struggle, but his sadistic inclinations did not end with his prisoners; instead he treated his children with the same venom. The only beings spared from the abuse were his fish.

In a story that spans over 12 days but continuously sways between the present and past, the hatred and estrangement felt by Edu starts to dissolve as he explores the house, with each object evoking memories both tragic and dear. In a desperate plight to understand his sworn enemy, Edu befriends his father’s Indonesian concubine.

Strong rhetoric and enigmatic symbolism make the novel an interesting read as the protagonist walks the thin line between hatred and love. The plot itself lacks lustre but scores on a stylistic approach that is deliberately slow.

Birney classifies himself as a “new world” author, a new genre for writers like himself, who discover their own culture through their work. His works definitely provide food for thought, with minuscule details and ideas that take him years to turn into a full-fledged novel.

Ikan Tanpa Salah is a novel that should be relished in parts, and is definitely not recommended for those in favor of a quick read.

© 2004 Sherry Samtani. The Jakarta Post