Newly translated work by the author of Beauty Is a Wound (2015).
The story begins with the grisly murder of Anwar Sadat—not the Egyptian president assassinated in 1981 but, rather, a lazy and lascivious artist living in a small town on the Indian Ocean. The cause of death is no mystery: a young man named Margio is clearly guilty. What no one can figure out, though, is the boy’s motive. Nor can they explain why Margio dispatched Anwar Sadat by ripping out the man’s throat with his teeth. What nobody knows is that Margio wasn’t quite himself when he attacked Anwar Sadat; Margio was, instead, possessed by a white tiger. This is the second of Kurniawan’s novels to be published this year, and it shares a number of similarities with its predecessor. The first and most obvious is the porous boundary between the natural and the supernatural. Another is the way in which the author borrows formal elements from folklore and oral tradition. But, where Beauty Is a Wound is sprawling and disorderly, this novel is succinct and disciplined. This evolution in style doesn’t work to the book’s benefit, though. The narrator’s voice is gossipy and close to the action—often the case in folklore—but the characters are almost never allowed to speak for themselves. And, although the story begins in medias res, the bulk of the book is a retrospective account of events leading up to the murder. Both stylistic choices keep the reader from getting close to Margio, Anwar Sadat, and their tragically intertwined families. And Kurniawan’s commitment to economy means that potentially fascinating episodes—like Margio’s decision to join the circus in order to learn from the tiger tamers—are reduced to a sentence or two. The readers most likely to be disappointed are those intrigued by the paranormal creature promised by the title: tiger sightings are few and far between.
Lackluster effort from a talented young author.