In the wake of a tragedy, a young Indonesian man discovers renewal in art and struggles to find love in an unfamiliar land in this debut novel.
When Adi is only 8 years old, his mother, Suriani, suddenly dies, a loss the Indonesian boy finds emotionally hobbling. He is filled with “burning rage,” and in response to his chronic misbehavior, his father, Totot, sends him to live with his aunts. Eventually, Adi takes art and English classes from Pak Harto, a teacher who is impressed by the student’s “naïve and driving curiosity” and storehouse of natural talent. Pak arranges for Adi to move to Sydney, Australia, for three years, where he can earn a degree in art—the school waives its tuition fee and a charitable foundation pays for the young man’s living expenses. Adi is mesmerized by Sydney and, in particular, by Lisa, a nude model who poses for one of his art classes, a “young woman with pale mask-like skin, green eyes and full deep-red lips.” Lisa is taken with him as well, but Adi is hesitant to pursue her, held back by the cultural chasm that separates them and by his poverty, a condition he believes makes him an ineligible bachelor. Lawrence sensitively portrays Adi’s wonderment at his new life—both his art and his vision of the globe expand in response to a world of novel possibilities: “Something was changing inside him, and he sensed the sink holes that were opening up, and through which everything he felt or discovered was flowing right on into his art making.” The author poignantly depicts Adi’s burgeoning identity crisis—he feels neither Australian nor even fully Indonesian and wrestles to find himself within an existence made rootless by the premature death of his mother. Lawrence avoids any didactic moralizing—in the place of some sententious lesson, she crafts a beautiful, complex love story. At the heart of her tale is a moving paean to the power of art to recast one’s view of the world, to generate a “new sensibility, a new way of seeing.”
A touching story that intelligently explores the potential for art and romance to bridge a cultural divide.