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Jazz, Perfume, and the Incident

by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

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I have to say that this book is not really "my kind of thing" but I am enthralled by the immensely clever way it was designed.

The author, journalist Seno Gumira Ajidarma, wanted to write about the "Dili Incident" in what was then a city in Indonesia and is now the capital of East Timor, when paramilitary opened fire with machine guns on a massive crowd of peaceful protesters. The official death toll was 19; the real body count was probably in the hundreds. The government, a dictatorship, claimed the soldiers were defending themselves against a bunch of violent guerrillas, and anyone who said otherwise was arrested or had to go into hiding. Ajidarma wanted to reveal the truth about what happened, but feared reprisal.

And so he published it in a literary press (the censors didn't pay much attention to literary books) as Jazz, Perfume and the Incident. Disguised as a novel, only one-third of the chapters are about the Incident. The other chapters are loosely connected short stories/vignettes themed around jazz and perfume. This is to disguise the book from casual browsers. Only if you really start reading it do you get to the heart of it, where Ajidarma presents eyewitness accounts, Amnesty International reports about torture, etc.

Since the English-language reader is not going to have a clue about this, it was all explained in the introduction.

That is so incredibly awesome. I have to applaud Ajidarma's cleverness here. And it worked: although he lost his job over his coverage of the Incident, he was not arrested, and a few years later the dictatorship was overthrown. ( )
  meggyweg | Feb 12, 2012 |
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