“Vengeance is mine, all others pay cash” by Eka Kurniawan

Eka Kurniawan, Vengeance is mine, all others pay cash by Tim Hannigan, 14/09/2017, Asian Review of Books

Eka Kurniawan is the Quentin Tarantino of Indonesian literature: a brash wunderkind, delivering gleeful references to pulp fiction, lashings of stylized violence, and an array of characters and scenarios that far surpass the tropes and clichés which inspire them. But as with Quentin Tarantino, one might occasionally wonder just how much substance lies beneath the indisputably stylish surface.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (a peculiar rendering of the Indonesian title, Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas, which might be better translated as “like revenge, longing must be paid in full”) is Kurniawan’s third novel to be translated into English. It follows his acclaimed debut, the surreal historical epic, Beauty is a Wound, and the short, sharp Man Tiger. As with the previous books there is plenty of sex, brutality and outrageous humor. But this time around there is no direct engagement with Indonesian history and few overtly supernatural elements. What we have instead is the violently quixotic odyssey of a man who can’t get an erection.

The book begins with the protagonist—street thug and sometime assassin Ajo Kawir—sitting on the edge of his bed, staring forlornly at his flaccid penis, “nestling like a newly hatched baby bird—curled into itself, looking hungry and cold”. And the opening dialogue is the first of Ajo Kawir’s many one-sided conversations with his unresponsive member:

He whispered to it, get up, Bird. Get up, you Wretch. You can’t just sleep forever. You have to get up. But that damn little bird didn’t want to get up.

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