More than half-way through The Bearded Turtle (Kura-Kura Berjanggut), an epic 960-page Indonesian novel by Azhari Aiyub set in a place that reminds readers of Aceh, we learn that the early 17th-century Sultan of Lamuri keeps in his royal library a copy of the recently published and prized European novel, A Castilian Hero Rides a Donkey, an invented title that nonetheless reminds readers of Don Quixote. This remix of Cervantes’ book title provides an efficient clue to Azhari’s literary approach to history. In his reflections in one forum after another, Azhari insists The Bearded Turtle is not historical fiction, but rather a kind of historical dissimulation. Other Acehnese cultural critics have described The Bearded Turtle not as a deconstruction of Acehnese history, but rather a destruction of history altogether! The Bearded Turtle escorts the reader through familiar pre-colonial and colonial ruins of Aceh’s history (and wider Indian Ocean and South China Sea regional histories), but never quite in the manner that archives would report. Instead, Azhari reimagines and remixes the ruins of history in a manner that not only confuses, but refuses allegory.
In this podcast, Dr Jesse Grayman sat down with Jarrah Sastrawan to share his thoughts on The Bearded Turtle, winner of the 2018 Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa prize in the prose category. As an anthropologist, but not a historian or literary critic, Dr Jesse Grayman speculates on the possibilities and limits for using such an unwieldy text in contemporary ethnographic analyses of Aceh and Indonesia more broadly.
About Jesse Grayman:
Jesse is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of Auckland. His ethnographic research since 2005 examines the humanitarian encounter in Aceh after the tsunami and peace agreement, and the reconstitution of civil society in the encounter’s aftermath.
You can follow Jesse on Twitter @kopyor.