Potions & Paper Cranes (Gadis Kembang Jepun)


Book Discussion
Potions & Paper Cranes (trans. Gadis Kembang Jepun)
with Lian Gouw (Dalang Publishing)

Friday 29 November 2013, 18.30 – 21.00
C2O library, Jl. Dr. Cipto 20, Surabaya 60264

A stark, honest portrayal of cursed love during the Japanese occupation of Java and the struggle for Indonesian independence.

Sulis is a young woman selling potions in Surabaya’s harbor district. She meets Sujono, a coolie with dreams of becoming a freedom fighter, and whose passion for Matsumi, a geisha called to Java by a Japanese general, is destined to ruin all of them. In Potions and Paper Cranes, each tells the story of their lives during the end of World War II and Indonesia’s transition from a Dutch colony to an independent republic.


Award-winning, late author Lan Fang began publishing short stories in teen magazines. She soon graduated to novels and became renowned for her intense first person narratives about women in ethnic and culture conflicts. Critics have praised Lan Fang for her ability to cross the borders of gender, race, and religion. She passed away at the age of forty-one, leaving behind nine novels and many short stories much loved by readers around the world.

Japan and Java clash and intertwine in Lan Fang’s Potions and Paper Cranes, set in the old commercial center of Surabaya during the Second World War. Themes of domestic violence, misplaced romance, passionate sex, separation, and reunion drive the narrative, but it is the fate of women and children in war that is at the heart the novel. The story is told with lush and unashamedly melodramatic emotion yet remains memorably authentic. Ultimately Potions and Paper Cranes affirms the fragility of hatred, and the capacity of memory and love to endure a lifetime of separation.
— George Quinn, Adjunct Professor, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

A sensitive translation of a novel that is by turns profoundly emotional and deeply violent.
— Harry Aveling, Associate Professor of Asian Studies, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Potions and Paper Cranes breaks the popular romance mold through its narrative strategy to give each character a voice…making the fictional world more complex than just a black and white dichotomy. Underneath the novel is a critique against the chauvinistic, masculine nationalist paradigm that sanctions violence against women and breaks families. Written by an Indonesian female of Chinese descent about the WWII era, the novel opens up rich material to uncover issues of historical memory, representations, identity, and transnational engagement.
— Melani Budianta, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Indonesia

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