The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak

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“She had a cat’s eyes, piercing and disarmingly almond shaped, and all her power was in that pillowy, firecracker mouth. Besides, what was the use for self-pity? She always knew that beauty is more a curse than a blessing. It exalts and entraps.”

 

Set in Indonesia during the Communist purges, this is a tale of war, slaughter, love, family, loyalties, tradition, motherhood and so much more. The prologue begins with a tale from the Mahabharata about a king with three daughters ‘as precious as diamonds”. Amba, is the eldest and the namesake of our main character. The Javanese are careful choosing their children’s names, we are told. “They understand all too well the great burden and history of a name.” Thus begins the fateful life of Amba.

The stabbing of a beautiful older woman sets of a curious story rich in culture and fate. Amba has fallen for two men. She never had the silliness of other girls about boys. Her mind is the most vital organ that needs to be seduced. Salwa will protect her, is the honorable choice for her future, and has her family’s approval. But Amba has a hunger to set out and become educated. Salwa isn’t much for showing his emotions. Her dreams are bigger than that of abiding wife. She wants passion. When she meets sophisticated  Bhisma, (European taught doctor) her world expands through his eyes. Bhisma fills the hungry pit inside her soul, but unlike Salwa he cannot keep her safe and a life with him could be forever an interrupted, rocky path. As the love triangle grows, it is entangled in the chaos of revolution. This isn’t a simple romance, there is so much loss and confusion. It brings into question not just the heart’s destiny, but what we owe our children and parents. We make choices, every step we take, that effects everyone we love. Sometimes we have to hurt others, there is no way around it, and it can have lasting consequences. “Here I am, so captive to this new, treacherous feeling that I prefer to be with a man who sets me agog with his exciting stories, rather than a man with whom I may only be able to trade boring cleverness each day but who will keep me safe?” The heart wants what is wants and sometimes brings down upon us an altered fate.

Amba will find herself alone as much as she has passionate encounters, and the ‘3 great loves’ explores that one may be safe, another transcendent and a third salvation. Sometimes a woman just needs a safe place to land, but there are things in her heart that she will never purge.  I didn’t know a lot about the communist eradication, the bloodiest in, so it was a bit of a history lesson too. It’s always interesting to read about the struggles of one’s culture and how their approach to love differs based on family and religion. The stabbing at the start is one heck of a way to begin a strange tale. A rich story steeped in a fascinating culture I knew so little about.

Available Now from Amazon Crossing

 

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