It’s a cliche to say Balinese people are always smiling. Does this mean they’re always happy? It’s very easy to confuse the two and it’s what foreigners often say about people they don’t understand. It’s hard to know what people think without speaking the language. I went to a workshop on Indonesian to English translation. It was conducted in Bahasa. I don’t speak Bahasa. I did a lot of smiling.
The workshop was held at a deluxe hotel and there are many of these in Ubud. It looked out over an infinity pool that looked out over a valley or rice terraces and coconut trees. There were 15 Indonesian writers all getting the low down from one of the few English language translation publishers in Indonesia. They were finding out how to get their work out there in English. It’s not easy. Although they do have their own Nobel hopeful, Pramoedya, Indonesian writing doesn’t have a solid place in the pantheon of world literature. In Indonesia the most popular fiction genre is Muslim Romance. The biggest book in the last few years is the semi-autobiographical ‘Laskar Pelangi’ (Rainbow Warrior) by Andrea Hirata. It was made into a blockbuster film too.
While I was smiling at the writers doing the workshop I wondered how they might make an indent on the international publishing scene. Of course, many of them speak English so I didn’t have to wonder for long.