Short Stories

Aug 31st, 2009, in IM Posts, Opinion, by and

Two short stories on the theme of cultural change and Islamization in Indonesia.

  1. "Duke Of Jaksa", by Ross
  2. "The Pilgrimage", by Timdog.

Vote for your favourite below.

1. "Duke Of Jaksa", by Ross

Duke, out of Jakarta on family business, left Lestari to cope with the rainy season's rigours and Ramadan's. She'd look after their kontrakkan, time still to help out in her pal Sinta's warung.

When Duke touched down at Soekarno Hatta, he rang. No answer, no worries - probably shopping or at Sinta's. He shouldered past rip-off cabbies,caught a Bluebird.

Disembarking on the corner, he sensed something amiss, quickened his pace. Faces peering over fences, normal nosiness, but this day unsmiling, Something in the pembantus' expressions raised his hackles, on edge immediately.

Their garden gate lay flattened. He charged through, as Sinta called his name.

"Pak Duke! Ma'afkan saya!"

Tearful bursts of ululating prose told him of the DOGS, Defenders of God's Statutes. They'd raided her warung (despite respectful curtains shielding hyper-sensitive fasters from the horrors of Christian meal-times) white-capped faces snarling at this 'blasphemous' affront to the devout.

In vain Sinta declared herself a Christian, unobliged to puasa; should she demand customers' KTPs before serving them?

They'd slapped her about, shredded the curtains, wrecked the warung. Lestari interceded, till a spiteful tukang jammu yelped that here was a Muslim living with a bule - the huffy old bag's seasonal sembako'd fallen short of expectations.

That revelation provoked fearsome rage, the thugs heedless of the fact that Duke had 'converted' when they'd married.

' A bule's cheap bitch!'

They turned on her,

'Where's your jilbab?'

She'd fled, along the little kali, swollen by the floods. Panic blinding her to danger, she'd stumbled into a cavernous flooded pothole, fast swept away.

'She surfaced once, Pak, called out, then...gone,'

Sinta choked up, led Duke indoors, scenes of ransacked chaos. Hoodlums, not content with manslaughter, had returned to loot the bule's home.

"The police?"

Busy, it transpired (hadn't they also been too 'busy' to relieve the siege of Tempo by a tycoon's hired gangsters?) with riots, flood problems; after all, the DOGS hadn't killed her. Death by misadventure, they'd said.

"Because she was fleeing terrorised by those swine.'

Duke's wrath frightened Sinta, her broad Javanese face convulsed.

'We put up decorations together when I was young, she helped at Christmas, me at Ramadan...'

By invoking civilised times past, Sinta sought to distance all the wong cilik from the new jihadism.

He put a hand on her shoulder, thanked her...by waiting for him here, she 'd done more than anybody else, he realised. If only he'd returned a day earlier. if only she'd stayed out of it...
Lestari's demise never made the papers, Islamist depredations these days barely rating a paragraph.

Duke quietly strove to rebuild his life, sought solace in favoured Jaksa watering-holes with buddies, Falatehan's finest sedulous in their efforts to assuage his stress..

But alone at home, cecaks his sole companions now, he slithered down King Lear's path - 'this way lies madness.'

Fury gnawed relentlessly as he hassled officialdom and the media. No body, no funeral...a missing person, he'd been advised, so not a lot they could chase the perps for, except 'disorder,' and God knew Jakarta had plenty.

He''d been in the Big Durian long enough to understand that but also to have met useful people.
If Lestari's killers weren't to answer for their crime, anguish pointed another way to give her her day in court.

A late-night tryst with an amiable preman in Pappa Cafe on Jalan Jaksa secured what he most required, a country-boy's life-long love, a gun.

Availing himself of the internet, he tracked down the DOGS' kennel, a notorious pesantren school in Grogol, run by the elderly fanatic, camelious-faced Ustad Basam, who thrived on propagation of hatred.

For the first time in his life, Duke appreciated his erstwhile in-laws' intransigent intolerance. They'd forced his conversion to Islam. Indonesian marriage law, bigotry entrenched, lovers of diverse faiths persecuted if they lived outwith wedding vows, yet banned from marrying - unless one of them turned apostate. Muslims who chose that option, said the venerable Basam, merited death.

So Duke had knuckled under, for love. Subsequently he'd eschewed participation in its rites, but first he'd explored the doctrines, trying to comprehend how anyone these days justified pedophilia or polygamy, affronts, indeed, to decent Muslims; but not confrontable, misguided adherence to the 'ummat' concept, sectarian solidarity above all.

Turning that very concept to his advantage. Well-versed in Islamic lore, he knew the format and timing of prayers, could blend into any mosque, even Basam's, which had once echoed to exhortations to assault foreign tourists.

Night fell at 6pm, as always in Grogol, when Duke approached, his tanned but patently foreign features drawing askance glances. But he assured the toughs by the entrance that he was a convert, come to pay his respects. They'd heard of Aussie turncoats serving with the Taliban, whose heroic exploits - throwing acid into unveiled faces and burning girls' schools - they admired.

Duke, nodded through to an unassuming back-seat, heard the obnoxious brute enliven his flock, another rant against Zionist-Crusaders.

Basam revelling in rapturous appreciation from the 'born-again' preman who constituted his audience, Duke stepped forward, levelled the hand-gun under his floppy shirt, put one in the head, one in the gut, a classic free-lance execution.

Swirling around, racing for the street, before anyone grasped what was afoot. (his armed status meant few of the yellow-bellies would seek to obstruct his exit) he'd no wish to escape. He wanted be taken by the police.. for that day in court.

Touch and go, but the police van escaped the mob, who, once Duke was disarmed, went frenziedly after him. Solitary confinement ensured survival in pre-trial custody. Worldwide headlines made Lestari famous.

Months passed till the big day. Cretinous Islamists frothed publicly for hukum mati; international awareness had diplomats in attendance for the guilty verdict - 'twas how he'd pled.

But his speech from the dock echoed round the archipelago, reinforcing the shame his Lestari's fate had inspired among thinking citizens.

"Basam's life was an ode to hatred. Who hates humanity is an enemy of God, who created mankind. Don't all your religions denounce Satan, not the pura2 Great Satan those mongrels..'

here he pointed at the DOGS...

invoke to stoke prejudice, but the real Satan, who delights in death and mayhem. I'll serve my sentence. But I killed a pig, not a High Court judge, Your Honours!. And I did it myself, not second-hand. Five years max, please! I've exorcised one demon. Up to Indonesian justice to get the rest!

Even in the Istana Negara, heads jerked up, took notice. In Pappa Cafe, a chorus of 'Good on yer, Duke!' erupted. Fights broke out there, and at universities.

The judges weren't fools, deliberated for ten days. 'Diminished responsibility.' 'Temporary insanity.'

Time served in custody, plus deportation.

Rioting lasted till next Ramadan, but so antagonised police and public that finally the DOGS were banned and simliar dregs of society rounded up, interned, pursuant to prosecution for treason against the Pancasila State.

Deprived of access to his duchy, Duke of Jalan Jaksa drank himself to death in exile in Dili instead. But he died happy, no virgins waiting in Paradise, just Lestari...



2. "The Pilgrimage", by Timdog

The ferry showed first as a flickering blemish between towers of dark cloud on the melting horizon; then it loomed tall in middle distance; now it was turning on the oily water of the inner harbour.

The ferry was big and beige with a high, sharp prow. Stocky men in blue boiler-suits were flinging ropes and shouting. There was a clamour of voices on the quayside, and behind it the tock-tock-tock of the bakso-seller tapping a cracked bowl with a dirty spoon. There were piles of bulging white sacks, and second-hand motorbikes, armour-plated with sheets of old cardboard, ready for shipping.

The Muslims floated like pale ghosts in the middle of the shifting crowd – men in their best black pecis, women in pink head-scarves – watching the ferry eagerly as it backed against the buffers. They had hired the best vehicle on the Island – a minibus, silver-grey with tinted windows – and made a banner for the occasion. It was strung along the side of the minibus, marked in childish block capitals: "WELCOME HAJJIS OF THE YEAR 2008".

The ferry squeezed up against the jetty and dark boys in long shorts launched themselves up the mooring ropes like broken spiders. A first rush of passengers surged down the narrow gangway and head-carried loads bobbed in the crowd.

The Muslims shifted and strained:

"Where are they?"

And then three men appeared at the top of the gangway and they hissed excitedly –

"There they are!"

The three men were paler ghosts even than the Muslims on the quayside. They wore white skullcaps and long shirts and yellow sarongs. All three had red-and-white Arab keffiyehs draped across their shoulders. There was a lean youth with a tuft of black hair at his chin and a dark, stocky man. Between them they supported a thin old man with papery skin. From the top of the gangway the old man looked out with cloudy eyes, beyond the rotting roofs of the little port, north along the empty coastline of the Island.

***

The Island was small and far in the east. It drifted alone and behind it was the emptiest ocean on earth. Half a century ago the islanders believed only in their own ancestors. They lived in tall houses and the Ancestors lived above them. But they called themselves Christian now, and in their own language they called the church the Bitter House.

The Muslims – a dozen families – lived only in the little port. They had been there for four hundred years and their forefathers came – the story used to go – from Makassar, riding on the back of a giant swordfish. The swordfish beat across shining water between curls of white foam and the Muslims clung to its quivering sail and it ground ashore at the Turtle Beach, a strip of white sand north of the little port.

That used to be the story, and every year, on the day of the first full moon in August, the Muslims would walk to the Turtle Beach and kill ten chickens, and the blood would run into the hissing water and they would remember the swordfish.

But it had been more than twenty years since anyone killed a chicken at the Turtle Beach. The Muslims all claimed Arab blood and no one mentioned the swordfish.

If you wanted to hear the story now you had to ask the Bitter House People. They could still tell you how the swordfish had charged the bright water, its purple fins humming, and how the Muslims had stepped ashore amongst the laying turtles and founded the little port. Some of them could even tell you how, long before the swordfish, the Muslims had washed from the sea in Makassar as fish eggs the colour of milky pearls, and how they had swum onto the land like raindrops on glass and coagulated in the form of men.

But none of the Muslims would tell you that story any more.

Things changed when the Arab arrived, one hundred years ago. The Arab came from the pirate port at Ende to buy horses and sandalwood. He wasn’t really an Arab. His grandfather had indeed come from Yemen, but he was of slave stock, not a Sayyid. He came to Java and married a woman from a village in the trees below Gunung Muria, and his son married a Madurese girl.

The Arab traded on just one-quarter of his bloodline, but he told everyone that he was a Sayyid, and the Muslims of the Island made small changes because they thought it would please him.

First they stopped eating pigs. Then they stopped drinking palm wine. Later some of them learnt to say their prayers, and after the Arab went away they began to intimate that the Arab had been their own grandfather. The truth was that too much palm wine in Ende had made the Arab impotent long before he arrived. But no one remembered that.

The Muslims were shopkeepers and traders. In a hundred years they had earned money to send their children to schools in Java. The girls came back in pink headscarves; the boys came back with tufts of black hair on their chins.

They earned money to buy televisions and motorbikes and they stopped going to their neighbours’ ceremonies. Once a year, in August, they still went to the Turtle Beach, but by the end it was just a picnic with sticky rice and dirty blankets and men going off to piss in the yellow scrub and at midday the kyai saying some prayers. No one killed any chickens, and only the old women thought about the swordfish.

And then the Muslims earned money to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and after that no one ever went to the Turtle Beach.

***

This year three men had gone on the outbound ferry to Java, and then on an aeroplane. The aeroplane was the same colour as the ferry and it beat across shining sky between curls of white cloud and landed on a strip of black tarmac in Saudi Arabia. The three men were a youth who had studied in Java, his shopkeeper uncle, and his grandfather who had eyes like milky pearls.

In the desert heat the youth was voluble and intense. The uncle smiled like he was on a picnic. The old man was silent.

The old man had never eaten pig or drunken palm wine, and one day, sitting in the heavy shade of the veranda, looking out at the dark ridgeback where the villages were, he had said to his sons

"These people are infidels."

It was the first time anyone on the Island had ever said that teeth-to-lip swearword.

"One day there will be trouble here,"

he had said, putting down his cup of grainy black coffee and placing the sticky metal cap over it to keep out the flies.

"What kind of trouble?"

asked his sons.

"Poso trouble. These people are infidels."

But now, in the desert, he said nothing, and when he slept at night in the mortuary ranks in the white tents his sleep was rotten with dreams. He dreamed of a giant swordfish.

The next day the old man said nothing, and saw nothing but a blank white crowd turning like water at the bottom of an emptying tank. His son and grandson had to carry him back to the white tents.

Two days later, on the Hill of Forgiveness when he should have been praying, he dreamed again of the giant swordfish. It ran hard through a shining sea and the water bulged before it and it came bigger and bigger under a sky scattered with tumbling white birds. The old man was on the scorched sand of the Turtle Beach watching its sail-fin looming tall in middle distance, and it grew larger and larger and roared onto the shore and its sword plunged into the old man’s heart and he woke with the desert sun in his eyes and said,

"I am dying."

The youth was with him.

"Praise God,"

he said.

"If you die here it is a great thing, Grandfather. There is no better place for a Muslim to die."

"There is a better place for me to die,"

said the old man.

***

The last sunlight was coming through the clouds in bright bars and the ferry was rolling against the jetty like a bound buffalo. The youth and his uncle were bearing the old man down the gangway and the Muslims on the quayside were shifting like cotton plants in the wind.

As the old man stepped onto the concrete the red-and-white keffiyeh slipped from his shoulder and went under the feet of the crowd. The youth tried to bend to pick it up, but he could not reach it. And then they were in the floating white midst of the welcoming party. The wind was chasing waves through the cloth of the banner – "WELCOME HAJJIS…"

Women in pink headscarves were beaming and men in black pecis were holding out their hands. Everyone was muttering phrases of mispronounced Arabic, and real questions between them:

"How was it?" "Praise God!"

The old man’s pearly eyes shifted over them.

"I am dying,"

he said, but no one heard him.

"How do you feel now?" "God is great!" "Was it hot?" "God has willed it!"

"I am dying,"

said the old man, a little more loudly this time. A pocket of silence grew around him.

"Take me to the Turtle Beach."



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81 Comments on “Short Stories”

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  1. avatar David says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Ok, had a hell of a job getting the poll to work this time hence the delay in publishing…I liked them both! I’ll be staying out of the voting this time….

    Ross, this Ustad Basam fellow is of Yemeni extraction? I think I can find some common ground in both the stories – it’s all the Arabs’ fault!

  2. avatar ET says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I’m going to abstain from voting. Ross’s story is more aggressive, in line with the brutal reality of present-day islamist fanaticism while timdog’s story gives a more subdued melancholical account of the sneaky replacement of old cultural values and its alienating effect on different generations. From a literary standpoint, as far as a non-Anglo is able to judge, I think they are evenly matched. The contents however ring a totally different bell.

  3. avatar timdog says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Bloody hell, I thought I’d crammed it in, but Ross seems to have condensed a whole novel into 1500 words. That is what you’ve done here isn’t it Ross, if I’m not mistaken?
    DOGS I like; something vaguely Salman Rushdieish about that, though I hope in the full length version you’ve managed to create out of Ustad Basam a fully developed and suitably ridiculous satirical caricature. See for reference the character of Mainduck in Rushdie’s Moor’s Last Sigh (who is, incidentally, a caricature of Bal Thackeray). Actually, read all of Rushdie’s Shame (the model for a razor-sharp, grand-scale, utterly merciless political satire if you ask me).
    And I very much like the fact that Duke (an autobiographical cipher perhaps?) ended up in Dili. Don’t know why, but I like that… I reckon you’ll get more votes…

    Patung:

    it’s all the Arabs’ fault!

    Question is, was it really the Arab’s fault? I’m not going any further than that because interpreting other people’s writing is silly enough; interpreting your own is positively preposterous. And anyway, I can see where I would be going if I did continue and it all looks disturbingly Naipaulian, which would require me to go outside and beat myself with a cricket bat for penance…

    ET – seems in that case like I rung the very bell I was hoping to ring. Thank you.

  4. avatar Ross says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    just got home and my rendang’s cooking, so only time to glance through Timdog’s work; immediate resonance of a good piece of fiction by that Michael chap with the Greekish surname, and I enjoyed that, so I look forward to reading Timdog’s take on islanders’ inter-action at a more leisurely pace.
    Clearly as different as different could be from my style!
    Will give a more fulsome review after dinner.

  5. avatar Ross says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Yeah, full up now, time to digest both the meat and the prose.

    Yes, I like your story, Timdog, though my usual taste is for a bit of action, which is obviously on the horizon of that soporific sea you invoke. I could use your 1500 words as an intro to my NEXT book, which will be next year, at this rate.

    As for the Duke, he is an amalgam of many people I’ve met here, many bules in Jakarta being not quite the full shilling, but mostly good-hearted. While his fictional antecedents are pretty close to mine, that’s okay, as one appreciates one’s own heritage better than others’ – as a rule.

    But he ain’t me, Babe, no, no, no he ain’t’ me, Babe!

    However, yes, as I declared about a week ago, he is the main protagonist in my new novel,

    A VERY MAD JAKSA MAN

    ‘Hero’ would be going a bit far…and his exploits are certainly more than I could manage. It’s out this week.

  6. avatar David says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    ‘Hero’ would be going a bit far…and his exploits are certainly more than I could manage. It’s out this week.

    So you’ll be interested in doing some hard promotional yards including interviews!

  7. avatar Ross says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Heck, Patung, everybody knows where I’ll be next Saturday – InsyAllah – so come along and I’ll sell you – and sign – a copy!

  8. avatar Ross says:
    August 31st, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Oya, congrats, Patung, you did a fine job with the lay-out and stuff. I’m not a hi-tech person, but I know a pro job when I see it!

  9. avatar David says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 4:19 am

    You’re right timdog, you’re pretty subtle there, was a bit surprised by your story actually, thought you’d finally been convinced….although I suspect you were being a little tongue in cheek in places, naughty if so.

    And why haven’t the Bitter House People already slaughtered the Swordfish People, or at least ‘encouraged’ them to leave…oh I see, they’ll be getting around to that shortly. And then the price of fish will go up…

    Incidentally Madrotter has been pimping this post to his Dutch hip hop friends, http://www.theboombap.nl/theBoards/read.php?1,1317579, good on you Mad, although judging by the one response to his thread not all Dutch hip-hopsters can appreciate fine story telling. Translated version. Shame on that guy.

  10. avatar Oigal says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 10:37 am

    And why haven’t the Bitter House People already slaughtered the Swordfish People, or at least ‘encouraged’ them to leave…oh I see, they’ll be getting around to that shortly. And then the price of fish will go up

    Hey, I was there!! (ok I don’t think too many died, but the houses burnt well). Even give you the name of the place and time if you like.
    Makes an interesting counter-point to the usual evil rampaging Muslim stories, aludes more to the oft told generational myth of tolerance. If you are a minority then you are only as secure as the intellectual maturity of majority allows.

    Gotta say tho, that particular week was full of the most bizarre circular conversations that one could only experience in Indonesia.

  11. avatar ET says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    timdog said

    And I very much like the fact that Duke (an autobiographical cipher perhaps?) ended up in Dili. Don’t know why, but I like that…

    I like it too. The hero leaves, but not entirely…

  12. avatar Oigal says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    many bules in Jakarta being not quite the full shilling, but mostly good-hearted

    Well done guys, I enjoyed both and I think the above quote pretty much sums up 98% of Bule in Indonesia. Its one of the joys of living in Indonesia, bizarre people, bizarre stories of how they ended up here but mostly in essence good people even if their politics suck. :-)

  13. avatar Ross says:
    September 1st, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Glad you enjoyed them, Oigal.

    But for anybody who thinks by reading my story they have the plot for my book, think again. No way I could condense a yarn of book-length into 1500 words; instead I took Duke into his madness and launched him in various new directions after losing the lady.

    (This entry is aimed at folks who won’t otherwise buy the novel!)

  14. avatar timdog says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Ross – Michael chap with a greekish surname? Who’s that? The English Patient guy? Never read him, though with hindsight, amongst other glitches that need polishing up (such as my cringeworthily heavy-handed keffiyeh-slipping-off-moment) I notice that I unconciously raised an enormous flag of stylistic influence: a story about an old man – and a giant swordfish????? For f*cksake, I apparently don’t have an original idea in my head…

    Patung:

    thought you’d finally been convinced

    I would have thought that it had long been apparent that I need absolutely no convincing that the institution of cultural inferiority complexes, the abandonment of old, firmly-rooted, locally contextualised beliefs and practices and their replacement with one of the global “brands” is something to be bemoaned. But there is a subtlety here: I firmly believe that it is the process of replacing which is primarily to be bemoaned; not necessarily the replacing entity itself. Too many people fail to see that distinction and then end up being shrill, banal, and all too often bigotted and offensive in their own way – and in doing so show very little genuine concerned for the replaced
    The focus of my story could just as easily have been the entry of the Ancestor People into the Bitter House, but I had pretentious, arty reasons to want it to be a small, isolated community of Muslims instead…

    My tongue wasn’t really in my cheek at any point, though I do confess to tossing in a couple of vaguely populist bones – knowing that I was up against Ross – that I wouldn’t have otherwise (I didn’t really need to make the Arab an impotent alcoholic, did I?)…

    And why haven’t the Bitter House People already slaughtered the Swordfish People?

    Probably because they haven’t been Bitter House People for very long; before that they were Ancestor People, but in truth were really just Village X People and Village Y People, and were far too busy killing each other (and occassionally killing Bible or gun-toting big-noses) to pay much attention to a little community of essentially benign outsiders… They still kill each other from time to time. But I would suggest that once they really do forget about the Village X and Village Y distinctions and really do start regarding themselves all as Bitter House People, then the Swordfish People might want to watch their step…

    You may detect that I am making outrageous transgressions here back and forth across the boundaries of truth and fiction. For the record, the real Bitter House People live on an entirely different island from the real Swordfish People, and, just to confuse things still further, I kind of based the fictional Swordfish People’s traditional practices on those of their real-life neighbours, the Dragon People, who, despite a few of them having white skullcaps and red-and-white keffiyehs, seem still to be doing alright by the Dragon at the moment…

    Oigal – on good-hearted, odd-ball bules, here’s a great line from the mighty Ryszard Kapuscinski:

    the white man in the tropics is the worst, least reliable source of information about local peoples and cultures

    which suggests, I suppose, that the whole lot of us ought to shut up and talk about football instead…

  15. avatar Odinius says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 6:35 am

    timdog said:

    here’s a great line from the mighty Ryszard Kapuscinski

    …who was notoriously unreliable himself! Great writer, though…

  16. avatar Ross says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Timdog, I had to spend a few mins searching but here he is. It’s a darn good yarn, and I think you should enjoy it, as it is pleasantly written and without such harsh focuses as my little story.
    Can’t quite follow your recent post…populist? I’ve been called worse, though I hope the reference to ‘impotent alcoholics’ isn’t aimed at my reasonably normal but (except maybe on the once-a-week free beer hour at the Highway) fairly abstemious self!

    THE SPICE GARDEN
    by Michael Vatikiotis
    Published by Equinox Publishing, Jakarta, Singapore, 2003
    Paperback 253 pages

    A COMMUNITY that has experienced a series of traumas will often turn inward and cover itself, unable to tell others of the hurt. How, when each word would only open the wound, rendering it raw again? Yet tell the members must, if they want to begin a healing process.
    The whole community needs to lift the cover and together take a good look at each other, in order to identify the sources of the festering sores.

    Very few people can say that they have not heard of the bloody clashes in Maluku since 1999. News about these have, on many occasions dominated the print and electronic media. However in the grand scheme of things, these news items came and went, fleeting past us, as if all that happened to those involved was no more serious than the rough and tumble on the football field. It is almost impossible for outsiders to understand what actually happened.

  17. avatar timdog says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Odinius – of course he was! Rumoured to make things up, and the very archytype of the “white man writing about Africa” – in which every book title must contain the word “sun”, or the word “dark”, or possibly a combination of the two [I don't make things up, but I do occassionally steal things, and I stole that, though I can't remember from who].
    But, judging by the line I quoted, he also seems to have had a healthy degree of self-awareness, which is something I always try to emulate…

    Ross – Oh that guy. Don’t know why, but I’ve never bothered to pick up a copy of that book. I will do so.

    What I meant by “populist” was that, guessing (correctly as it turns out) that you would be producing a pretty fiery story, I knew I would need to toss in a few little crowd pleasers to prevent all my fey airiness being utterly obliterated by your admirably caustic sizzling. Crowd-pleasers in the form of faintly disapproving comments about jilbabs and chin-beards etc, and the figure of a drunk Arab (nothing to do with you, buddy). Surely making an Arab not only drunk, but also impotent would gain me howls of delight from the IM stalls, no?
    In other circumstances I might have left them out, being as I am a great believer in the “iceberg theory” of short story writing, and the value of things left unsaid – also borrowed from that other old man-big swordfish guy. See – not a single original idea…

  18. avatar Ross says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. Hemingway never was! Till the end.

  19. avatar Odinius says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Well, it’s a tough one. While I like Ross’ playful “incensed Brit” tone, and share his disdain for the fundies, I like timdog’s sort of “cultural anthropologist’s lament,” and prefer his prose style.

    On a critical level, I did feel like both lacked any sympathetic characters amongst the orthodox Muslims, which has the effect of “othering” an incredibly broad category of people. But I’ll chalk that up to space issues than anything more deliberate. I know both of you understand this point very well already.

    So for me, it’s a tie!

  20. avatar Ross says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:13 am

    True, and fair crit. I have in the past, Westerling’s Legacy, tried to let a character put forward views like theirs with clarity and conviction, but given a week or two to produce a 1500 word short story, i admit i fell short on several fronts.

    I am not without some sympathy with the ‘orthodox Muslim’ social stance – it’s the hoodlum tactics i detest.

  21. avatar ET says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:17 am

    @ timdog

    Crowd-pleasers in the form of faintly disapproving comments about jilbabs and chin-beards etc, and the figure of a drunk Arab

    Never met a drunk Arab and it seems rather unplausible given their draconian shariah laws. And impotent is a bit below the belt and got nothing to do with their general attitude. As a crowd-pleaser I would have prefered a comment about jilbabs and goatbeards, especially jilbabs, as it is more in line with the general tenet of your story about the abandonment of old, firmly-rooted, locally contextualised beliefs and practices.

  22. avatar timdog says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Ross – much better to be hard on oneself now than save it all up for the end like Hemingway. And probably better not to drink quite so much. And probably better not to have a deeply confused sexuality burried beneath layers of machismo. But still, the old bastard could certainly write.
    Now here’s a fine fantasy – a session on Jaksa with Hemingway – in Pappa Cafe, naturally. That would be fun…

    Odinius – delighted that you like my style. It’s all about style really. I’d rather read a book with a deeply flawed structure and a troublesome narrative that is written beautifully (like Bruce Chatwin, for example) than the other way around…
    As you obviously realise, the lack of developed characters amongst the Muslims was entirely down to space. Under other circumstances I would have left all the history and context to the iceberg theory and made it entirely about the old man – who if not sympathetic as such, you are meant to sympathise with.

    ET:

    Never met a drunk Arab and it seems rather unplausible

    I take it then that you’ve never spent an evening in the Bar Karnac off Martyrs’ Square in Damascus? Or in the cafes in Beirut? Or in downtown Cairo or Alexandria of a Saturday night?

    And I made him impotent as a cheap and easy way to make it clear that the Muslims in my story had no Arab blood.

  23. avatar Odinius says:
    September 3rd, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    timdog:

    Odinius – delighted that you like my style. It’s all about style really. I’d rather read a book with a deeply flawed structure and a troublesome narrative that is written beautifully (like Bruce Chatwin, for example) than the other way around…
    As you obviously realise, the lack of developed characters amongst the Muslims was entirely down to space. Under other circumstances I would have left all the history and context to the iceberg theory and made it entirely about the old man – who if not sympathetic as such, you are meant to sympathise with.

    Yeah I figured as much. Ross too. But the critic must point out what the writers missed, whether intentionally or not!

    I take it then that you’ve never spent an evening in the Bar Karnac off Martyrs’ Square in Damascus? Or in the cafes in Beirut? Or in downtown Cairo or Alexandria of a Saturday night?

    Good point. Alcohol is freely available in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.

    But can find plenty of drunk Arabs in London, Paris and New York too.

  24. avatar Ross says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:33 am

    I think, Timdog, Hemingway would like Jaksa, especially Pappa. He was not always right, but chose to enjoy his life.
    You are surely not implying Hemingway was a poofter! He was a good bloke, despite his obvious idiosyncrasies!

  25. avatar timdog says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Ross,
    Let’s examine the evidence:

    The beautiful but somewhat androgynous girl “with her hair cut short, like a boy’s” is an endlessly repeated Hemingway motif.

    Connected to that, take a look at Wife Number 2 Pauline, and to a lesser extent, Wife Number 4 Mary.

    Also connected to that, have a read of the flawed – and downright odd – posthumously published The Garden of Eden, and the weird “now I’m the boy and your the girl, or maybe now we’re both the boy” sex games of its obnoxious protagonists.

    Bullfighting. Have you ever seen a bullfight??? You don’t get much more overtly, mind-bogglingly homoerotic than bullfighting.

    And finally, all that machismo stinks of British rugby player-style over-compensation.

    Great writer though, and he certainly lived, and I’d love to have gotten drunk with him.
    You are aware of his politics, right? Despite being an inately right-wing personality, politically speaking he was always hard left…

  26. avatar David says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Here ya go….

    Pauline

    Mary

  27. avatar David says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Why couldn’t he have gone in for, someone like Indah here

    It’s late…

  28. avatar timdog says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 1:39 am

    You see what I’m saying, right…

  29. avatar Ross says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Oke, Timdog, Hemingway was a lefty, as his participation in Spain’s conflict showed. So was Orwell, and they were both great writers. I am not so far right that I can’t recognise quality on the other side of the canyon. Also some of my best drinking buddies have been bolsheviks of one brand or another.
    But the fact that his various womenfolk did not measure up to other people’s ideas of perfect womanhood scarcely makes him a gender-bender!

    I have been to a bullfdight, once, and that was enough..I was a bit naive back then and foolishly imagined that the bull had a fair chance. I was not impressed when I understood that he gets done in no matter what!
    But I didn’t see anything remotely poofy about it, though clearly if a guy turned up in Pappa Cafe dressed like a toreador, I’d be a tad wary.

  30. avatar Odinius says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Of course, Hemingway was fighting for the Spanish republic, not for the Communist and Anarcho-Syndicalist factions within it.

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