Frankfurt on the Horizon

The Lontar Foundation traveled to Hobart, Melbourne and Perth to promote Indonesian literature translated into English. The trip was a warm-up for the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, at which Indonesia will be featured.


THE city of Hobart at the foot of Mount Wellington was introduced to Indonesian literature. Lontar Foundation director and translator John McGlynn traveled to this city, on the island of Tasmania off Australia’s southern coast, 25 books of Indonesian literature that had been translated into English in tow. He presented them during his talk, “Why Translation Matters.” “Translation has always been an important communication tool for spreading ideas,” McGlynn said in July, speaking to hundreds of participants at the Indonesia Council Open Conference (ICOC), a biannual event held and attended by Australian academics researching Indonesia. McGlynn, who has lived in Indonesia since the 1970s, established Lontar with Umar Kayam, Sapardi Djoko Damono, Goenawan Mohamad and Subagio Sastrowardoyo 25 years ago as a nonprofi t organization to translate Indonesian literature into English. Since it began, Lontar has published dozens of novels, poetry collections, short story anthologies, play scripts and a literary journal series titled Menagerie. Without translation, Mc-Glynn said, understanding another country’s literature would be impossible. He spoke before hundreds of Indonesia scholars, including well-known Indonesianists David T.Hill, Pamela Allen, Barbara Hatley, Greg Fealy, Adrian Vickers and somewhat younger ones like Stephen Miller, as well as dozens of PhD candidates doing research on Indonesia.

One of Lontar’s goals is to bring this book collection, called the Modern Indonesian Library, to three cities in Australia. “This is still the fi rst group of Indonesian literary works translated into English. Later these will be followed by further works, up to more than 100 books,” McGlynn said. This promotional tour of literary books, which began in Hobart, is aimed at raising awareness of Indonesian literature translated into English. It is a kind of warm up to the “Road to Frankfurt Book Fair 2015,” in which Indonesia will be the guest of honor. For this program, Allen, a lecturer and researcher in Indonesian studies at the University of Tasmania, coordinated the fi nancial support and facilities from the Australia-    Indonesia Institute, the University of Tasmania and Murdoch University. “As an academic in literature as well as a translator, I regard literature as stating truth as does history and science,” Allen said in her presentation “For that reason, translation is a vital process so literary works can penetrate national boundaries.” Meanwhile, the 25 books brought to Australia and packaged as one series consist of the classic novels Sitti Nurbaya by Marah Roesli translated by George Fowler; Belenggu by Armijn Pane translated by McGlynn as Shackles; Senja di Jakarta by Mochtar Lubis translated by Claire Holt and McGlynn as Twilight in Jakarta; Para Priyayi by Umar Kayam translated by Vladislav Zhukov as Javanese Gentry; and a series of fi ction and poetry anthologies by younger writers such as Dorothea Rosa Herliani and Lily Yulianti Farid. “The 25 books which have already been published does not mean that they are more important than the works to come which are being and will be translated,” McGlynn said in response to a question from Vedi Hadiz, a lecturer and researcher at Murdoch University, who asked why Chairul Anwar was not on the list. McGlynn acknowledged that names like Anwar, Rivai Apin and younger writers like Joko Pinurbo were on the list, “but they are all still in process. There are problems of permission, technical problems, lack of funds and lack of translators, so that the 25 books which we have brought now are those which are completed.” Also the works of internationally known writers such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer have already been published by big international publishers, so including them in the Modern Indonesian Library collection requires a long process of permission for cooperation. (more…)