Indonesia: We Know Who, but We Do Not Know Why

Another highly praised book on my list: Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan. I had no expectations, no knowledge about what the book even is about, so it was easy just to dig into it and read. There’s a young man who believes there is a big, white female tiger living inside of him.Two families are linked to each other throughout the book. There is a lot of tragedy, loss, misguided expectations and betrayal. Typical subjects for a novel.

The story is set in a small town on the coast of Indonesia. Margio, the Man tiger, kills another man. The story then tries to explain why this happened, and finally gives us a “reason” at the end of the book. “That was when the tiger came out of Margio, white as a swan.” It is interesting that the author starts off with telling the reader who was murdered and by whom in the first sentence. The story between these two men unfolds throughout the book going back and forth between now and then.

Interestingly enough if the names and some cultural things were different, and alcohol would be added to the story, this could pretty much be set in any Western country. I’m sure there are some white tigers here as well, or Kodiak bears or gray wolves. Luckily for me this is not magical realism, and the tiger part did not bother me as much as I thought it might.

Having said that this book shows the reader interesting elements of life in a village in Indonesia, and these elements would not work as well in a Western society, which I appreciate. I feel like a book should have specific cultural elements, because then it gives the reader a lot more than just the story. For me this was the main strength in the book.

I did unfortunately not “click” with this book. It is an easy read, and I am sure many readers will love it, but it just was not for me. Many times the going back and forth in time does not work the way it is supposed to, luckily there are several good exceptions, but Man Tiger is not one of them.

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