Book Review: Maryam by Okky Madasari

(Moved from previous blog)

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to read more books. I’ve always loved reading since I was young, but I have to admit I haven’t been reading much ever since I started uni. In an attempt to expand my reading, I took part in Goodreads’ 2015 Reading Challenge — and rather than just reading and posting books I decided to write reviews, too.

This is probably my first ‘serious’ book review, so heads up guys, it might be a little rough here and there. 😉

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Okay so I bought Maryam a couple of weeks ago — actually I’ve been looking for it since forever and the local bookstores were out of stock! I was sooo excited that they finally restocked, along with Entrok which I’ve also been looking for. (But to be honest I didn’t really know what the story was going to be about. I saw someone’s instagram post about it and figured that it looked interesting… Yep)

I was quite surprised as I started reading. Okky brought up a theme that was (in my history of reading Indonesian literature, anyway) quite uncommon: about life as an Ahmadiyah in a mainstream muslim society. As we know in Indonesia, Ahmadiyah is a sect from Islam that is widely regarded as deviant, and nowadays in most parts, Ahmadiyah are not tolerated by the mainstream and devout muslim believers.

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This story is in one part a melodrama, one part tragedy, and one part a recount of our present society.

We have Maryam, an Ahmadi ever since she was young — but then left her family and her home to marry Alam, a non Ahmadi. She experienced a massive burden living with the so-called ‘true’ islam in-laws: the pressure of having a baby, of trust and of living with the prejudice towards an Ahmadi (even though they made her leave her belief when she married). In the end, Maryam and Alam divorced — which then ends up in Maryam coming back to her old village to see her family after years of separation.

Then we have the horrible truth: her family had been driven out by the locals who had believed her family was involved in a deviant sect and therefore a threat to the community. She found her family, eventually. They were living in a housing complex exclusively set up for and by Ahmadis because they had nowhere else to live. Maryam then continued to live with her family, guilt-ridden seeing how her family had to survive all these while.

As Maryam continued to live there, we then have the classical issue: marriage. Of course, she needs to find a way to support herself but in her parent’s eyes she also need support of a husband; which then leads us to the marriage of Maryam and Umar. I’m simplifying the story here (sorry!) because I don’t want to get too detailed. 😉

The tragedy is then when the village locals attack the Ahmadi housing. The Ahmadis were driven away and forced to live in a makeshift shelter. There, the Ahmadis live for years without any clear solution. And here, the story ends: with Maryam leading the Ahmadis to seek justice and claim their rights.

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In my opinion, the whole point of this story wasn’t to say who was right who was wrong. It wasn’t about Ahmadis vs. True Islam (whatever that is). It was the story of social life, injustice, and blind discrimination. About the premanisme (or mafia-ism, if you may) in our present society.

As we read, we see that the ones driving out the Ahmadis were local people — ones who used to be friends, ones who used to be close. Most were doing what they had to do because of social and religious pressure. They were provoked by a small group of people claiming that they were the true Islams and they have the right to bring justice by their own hands. Premanisme. Religious mafia-ism.

Then we see how the people suffering had to live: in uncertainty, in injustice, stripped from their rights. We see how the authorities don’t (or can’t..or won’t) do anything much to help — they can’t do much against the majority’s rage, in reality.

I think the question silently suggested by Okky at the end was: when will all this madness end? When will the suffering end in justice? When will our society come to terms with religious tolerance? It is a simple question with an uncertain answer: we don’t know. We don’t know, not as long as our society’s mentality is the same. Not as long as blind belief and intolerance silently govern our life.

I enjoyed this book immensely, but I really did wish there were more dialogues. I’m not an expert on literature, but personally it felt too much like someone narrating another one’s life — I would’ve preferred a lively flow of stories. That being said, I think I’ll give a 3.5/5 because of the lagging storyline. It’s worth a read, guys. Give it a shot

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