From the time she was a little girl, Nia has dreamed up adventures about the Javanese mythical princess, Dewi Kadita. Now fourteen, Nia would love nothing more than to continue her education and become a writer. But high school costs money her family doesn’t have; everything her father earns selling banana fritters at the train station goes to their meager existence in the Jakarta slums―assuming he doesn’t drink it all away first.
But Nia―forced to grow up too soon to take care of her baby brother following their mother’s death during childbirth―is determined to find a way to earn her school fees. After she survives a minibus accident unharmed and the locals say she is blessed with ‘good luck magic,’ Nia exploits the notion for all its worth by charging double for her fried bananas. Selling superstitions can be dangerous, and when the tide turns and she discovers her father’s secret plan to marry her off to a much older admirer, It becomes clear that Nia’s future is being mapped without her consent.
If Nia is to write a new story for herself, she must overcome more obstacles than she could ever have conceived of for her mythical princess, and summon courage she isn’t sure she has
This is such a beautiful book I now hold so close to my heart. As an Indonesian-Australian reader, I related so much to this having been to Jakarta many times in my life, understanding the culture, the language, seeing the chaos in the city traffic, the poverty and even the slum areas. I felt close to the protagonist, Nia and I loved her fierce spirit and sheer determination of wanting to make her life her own. It is true – many girls who grow up in poverty don’t have access to education and they are often thrown into a life that’s not theirs. Nia shows these girls hope – while she accepts her responsibility to care for her younger brother in her parents’ absence, she refused to accept this to be her fate and was determined to go to high school and become a writer.
What also resonates with me is the telling of a well-known Indonesian legend throughout the book. Through the reminiscing of Nia’s mother telling her bedtime stories, to Nia telling the story to her little brother Rudi, to Nia writing her own retellings, the original legend of Nyai Roro Kidul, also known to many as the story of Dewi Kadita, was cleverly intertwined into the main story. This gave the book an element of fantasy/mythology that worked so well in balancing this contemporary (and heart touching) story.
From beginning to end, I couldn’t put this book down. The author did extremely well in bringing the Indonesian culture and legend to page as well as accurately describe chaotic scenes to slum areas of Jakarta streets. The author also did a fantastic job in keeping Bahasa Indonesian alive within the story. When writing for a wide audience, it is often challenging to find the balance between retaining original language and translation as you always lose something in translation however the balance was well done and a glossary is included for non Indonesian speakers to further understand the references.
I was so engrossed in this book and I am so thankful this book has been written – it is difficult for me to find books with Indonesian representation. I believe this book can be enjoyed by readers of all cultures as I feel it is eye opening for those who don’t know that much about Jakarta, Indonesia or Indonesian traditions and life – however it is also relatable for those who share the Indonesian culture as I do. I now want to go to Pelabuhan Ratu to see the very place the legend of Nyai Roro Kidul aka Dewi Kadita (which you read about in this book) is based.