Indonesian author Norman Erikson Pasaribu spoke to us about his favourite authors, the way nature features in his work and his relationship with his translator.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I write poetry, fiction and nonfiction which mostly deals with the lives of queer people in Indonesia and how we navigate our way in society.
My book of poems Sergius Seeks Bacchus is translated by Tiffany Tsao and is coming to the UK from Tilted Axis Press.
You’ve been chosen as one of the 12 Indonesian authors for the London Book Fair Market focus how does that make you feel?
I’m really excited to meet all the people at Tilted Axis and the book designers.
I’m interested in how Indonesian literature will connect with English speaking readers with other backgrounds. How it will attract discussions with other cultures. It’s about how we will connect and there will be something that comes out of this connection.
What’s the greatest book you’ve ever read and why?
That’s a really tough question! Probably Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine. In the book Mary is subverting the ideas in the Bible; it’s a religious book for the non-religious and non-religious for the religious, it’s one of my favourite books!
Who are your two favourite Indonesian authors?
Intan Paramaditha who is also coming to the UK with us! She wrote a book called Black Magic Woman and what I love about it is that it subverts the assumptions and stereotypes made about women in Indonesia.
The second author is Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas. Her book, Familiar Messes and Other Essays, talks about how mental health affects her life in Indonesia and how she has to navigate this in Jakarta along with everything else.
Talk to us about your relationship with writer and translator Tiffany Tsao
This is a very exciting thing I have with Tiffany, she translates my book from Indonesian to English. Then I will translate Tiffany’s book Under Your Wings - which is a brilliant novel - into Indonesian. There is a relationship between us, I translate her and she translates me. Under Your Wings is about a Chinese family. It starts with a murder...
You talk about nature in your work can you expand on this?
Sometimes in Indonesia when people know that you are gay some people say it’s unnatural, un-Indonesian and that you are Westernised. Pre-colonial Indonesia was actually very queer friendly compared with the post-colonial. For example in Makassar in Bugis society they have five genders. I think that queer is kind of displaced from nature; it’s kind of like me reclaiming nature. There is an assumption that the man will cut the tree, climb up and get the fruits – it’s exploitative. I want to subvert that image by making the man hug the tree. The tree is genderless.