“Laut Bercerita” (“The Sea Speaks His Name”) is a phenomenal novel authored by Leila S. Chudori which narrates the lives of student activists during the New Order era. The book was reviewed in the “Book Discussion: Laut Bercerita” event, which was held on Tuesday (13/3) at Siti Parwati room, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Airlangga. The enthusiasm of the discussion participants was evidently apparent from the overcrowded Siti Parwati room that numerous participants were forced to sit on the floor because they could not get seat.
Leila said that her visitation to UNAIR was deliberately conducted on the second day of roadshow since UNAIR has a close linkage to her novel. Indeed, March 13, 1998, was the day when two Unair students, Bimo Petrus and Herman Hendrawan, were taken, and they have been missing until now.
There were three keynote speakers present in the book discussion: Leila S. Chudori as the author, Wilson from the Amnesty International Indonesia, and Adi Setijowati as a lecturer of Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Airlangga, with moderator Kukuh Yudha Karnanta, lecturer of Master of Literary and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Airlangga.
Adi Setijowati, the first speaker, said that the history of Indonesian literature has always seemed to distance itself from sensitive political issues. Moreover, it is also rare for literary works which are brave enough to embody left-wing movements or sensitive incidents such as G30S/1965 or the 1998 riot.
“Leila Chudori has consistently succeeded in weaving political issues in her novels,” Adi added.
Adi also emphasized some important aspects in the novel, with one of them being the violence culture in the political world of Indonesia, which has never been completely investigated. In addition, the society is prone to forget and forgive political sins of the authorities so that whenever an event of political violence occurs, within a certain period of time the public will have forgotten and the government will stop investigating the case.
“That’s why, literary works such as Laut Bercerita is crucial as a reminder, and it functions to awaken the collective memory of society,” supported Adi.
Meanwhile, the second speaker, Wilson, was a figure in history from his experience as activist when the 1998 riot broke out. He claimed that “Laut Bercerita” is a literary work which stands with humanity so the book deserves to be the work of pride of Indonesia.
“Leila is capable of recording the victims’ feelings and writing them beautifully in the novel,” he explained.
Next, Leila as the third speaker described the background of the idea of writing “Laut Bercerita”. She admitted that the insporation came when she asked Nezar, a student activist in the New Order era, to write every story and feeling out when he was captured by the authorities. Nezar’s story was published in the special edition of Tempo entitled “Di Kuil Penyiksaan Orde Baru” (“In the Temple of Torture of the New Order”). Hereafter, in 2013 Leila began researching and interviewing for writing her novel.
“It’s not only interview, but I also searched and visited corn fields, even pawnshops area which became the background of the interviewees’ stories so that I could understand better about the feelings of those interviewees,” Leila revealed.
Leila also explained that characters in “Laut Bercerita” were indeed inspired by true people. However she admitted that her characters are not exactly identical to the real people who inspired her. For example, main character Biru Laut is a blend of people in real life. She said that in fiction, characters that she created are mixtures of many people, but the political situation or humanity pressures which enveloping them are real.
When asked about what kind of obstacles she had to face whilst writing “Laut Bercerita”, Leila answered, “Hard for me to create characters that are aged 23-24s. Because young people back then were different from young people nowadays. If it comes to female activist characters, I can still do it, but when they’re male, I had to ask a psychologist, well, in order to ask ‘what’s on their mind’. When I was writing ‘Pulang’, the characters were about my age, so I could write them a little easier.”
Interestingly, Leila also delivered a unique fact that when about to shoot a film ouf of “Laut Bercerita”, she was advised from the producer of Marsinah (2011), Gusti Randa, to give ‘funny’ titles to the ongoing movie so that the shooting process could go on without any hitch from the authorities or any political party. Leila laid out the film shooting process as follows, “After receiving such suggestions, we finally named it membeberkan proses syuting filmnya sebagai berikut, “Karena dapat saran seperti itu, kita akhirnya jadi menamakan filmnya ‘Dark: A Love Story’ ‘Kelam: Sebuah Kisah Cinta’. The film location was a remote one and its setting was narrow. Quite safe. The shooting process went smoothly and was finished in three days. The well-known actresses and actors who starred in the film, like Reza Rahadian and Dian Sastro, immediately accepted the offer to play in the movie pro bono after reading the novel.”
On that occassion, there was Utomo Raharjo, father of Bimo Petrus, the student activist from Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Unair, who was taken during the end of the New Order era. He got the chance to tell about his long lost son. Utomo Raharjo has been struggling for 20 years to seek certainty about Bimo Petrus’ fate. He also told how Bimo bid his farewell to his parents before going to Jakarta and was arrested, held, and never to return.
“I do not wish you to become the next Bimos, but I hope we continue to remember their fight,” Utomo said.
While about Bimo Petrus, Utomo said that, “While God still gives me breath, I will keep on fighting.”
In the end of discussion, the moderator gave a chance for the participants to ask. But because of the limited time, there were only 5 people who were allowed to ask. The participants were M. Ivan from Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Dr. Soetomo, Yoga from Faculty of Humanities UNAIR, Grace from International Relations, UPN “Veteran” Yogyakarta, as well as Ronnie Hatley, a historian and Indonesianist from the United States.
An unpredictable moment happened when Grace delivered a question, asking to be allowed to lead a moment of silence to recall and remember the struggle of the Indonesian activists.
The discussion was closed with a photo session as well as an announcement to the participants who wanted to attend the film screening, which was held at Faculty of Social and Political Sciences Unair at 4 that evening (13/3).