by Dias Novita Wuri
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Pub Date 13 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 6 Oct 2023
A dazzling novella from a rising star of Indonesian literature that explores what it means to be a woman — whoever you are, wherever you are, and whenever it is in history and time.
In today’s Jakarta, an unnamed man tells the story of his lifelong friend Nastiti, and what happened on the day she vanished. In the Dutch East Indies’ Semarang, a young Indo-Dutch girl, Rukmini, is captured by the Japanese military and is forced into prostitution. Years later, Arini travels to the Netherlands to share her mother’s dark past with a researcher.
After the American occupation of Japan in WWII ends, a former war photographer revisits his memories of Hanako, the wife of a traumatised ex-Imperial soldier, but can’t escape his own darkness. And in present-day Osaka, a young Indonesian woman, Dara, haunted by her past and struggling to conceive, becomes obsessed with a Japanese porn star.
Through these interconnected narratives, in stunning prose, Dias Novita Wuri explores generational legacies, lost loves, the damage that war does to men, and the damage that men do to women.
‘Birth Canal was written with a dripping golden pen. Captivating and devastating, the stories of these women are told with truth and love.’ – Laura McPhee-Browne, author of Cherry Beach and Little Plum
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
(PR product @scribe_uk @netgalley) I’d say I’ve read quite a lot of historical fiction in my time, but I definitely haven’t read anything about Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule, and the subsequent Japanese invasion during the war, so I was excited to be approved for Birth Canal by Indonesian author Dias Novita Wuri - translated by the author herself! You know when a book is dealing with colonialism and war that you’ll need to brace yourself, and although this book is only slim (160 pages), Wuri packs a lot of emotional impact into four vignettes each focusing on four different women.
None of the four women have much in common beyond their gender and the fact that they all find their lives being defined by the violence inflicted on them by men. A young woman in modern day Jakarta tries to deal with an unwanted pregnancy on her own, a woman during the war finds herself forced into prostitution for the Japanese military, a woman deals with a traumatised husband and an American photographer who is dangerously obsessed with her, and finally another young woman struggling to conceive while her husband is the opposite of supportive.
I liked the way that the two more modern narratives sandwiched the two 20th-century narratives at the beginning and end, although it was depressing in how obvious it made it that women are constantly suffering, have suffered and will suffer. The circumstances change, wars end, power changes hands, but women continue to bear the brunt of the brutality of both war and men. Sometimes the perspective would shift to the second person within each vignette, and I did find this a bit confusing. With four stories already vying for space in such a slim novel, I felt that these shifts took me out of the narrative too much and then I had to situate myself again.
Bleak & brutal, as is to be expected.