Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Poet Pasaribu makes their English-language debut with a remarkable collection of speculative and absurdist fiction incorporating Batak and Christian culture. In an introductory note, Pasaribu riffs on the Indonesian word hampir (almost), and its implications for queer people ("What does it mean to be almost happy? To almost get in, to be almost accepted, to be almost there"). "Ad maiorem dei gloriam" follows an elderly nun who routinely breaks the rules of her convent to wander outside its walls and lands a job as a nanny. In "Welcome to the Department of Unanswered Prayers," a recently deceased man joins the ranks of other dead people in the drab office referenced by the title, where workplace politics reign supreme. Pasaribu plumbs the depths of a Batak Protestant mother's guilt in "So What's Your Name, Sandra?" after she rejects her gay son and he dies by suicide. The free-spirited and worldly "A Young Poet's Guide to Surviving a Broken Heart," written in the second person, suggests funny and vital coping mechanisms for a poet's heartache and loneliness: "Try contacting your friends to see if they're up for dinner. Not at your place, because your room looks like a Pollock painting"). This is sure to get people talking. Agent: Jayapriya Vasudevan, Jacaranda Literary Agency. (June)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
In intimate detail, Indonesian writer Pasaribu's debut collection explores the way colonial violence and anti-queer prejudice permeate contemporary culture. Looking through a queer lens, the reader is invited to witness the psychic damage done by heteronormativity and homophobia. As hinted in the title, the stories here see characters come close to finding happiness only to have it stolen from them, which Pasaribu positions as typical of queer life: "To almost get in, to be almost accepted, to be almost there, but, at the same time, to be not there/accepted/in." In "So What's Your Name, Sandra?" a mother travels from Jakarta to Mỹ Sơn, Quảng Nam, Vietnam, a place she found while googling the words my son following her own son's suicide. While there, she's forced to recognize her homophobia as the root of his despair. Similarly, in "Our Descendants Will Be as Numerous as the Clouds in the Sky," Pasaribu introduces a mother who discovers that her insistence on grandchildren is the reason her son's marriage is failing. Here, and throughout the collection, the heteronormative blueprint of marriage and children shatters the well-being of queer people. Religion features in every story, but Pasaribu's adroit cynicism is realized most emphatically in "Welcome to the Department of Unanswered Prayers." The protagonist embarks on a new job in heaven, but the work is revealed to be bureaucratic, soulless, dissatisfying: "Once you receive your quota of prayers for the day, and make sure the total corresponds to the total number of names on the register, all you have to do is file them in a binder." God's absence is also evident in "Ad maiorem dei gloriam." Sister Tula, a retired nun, meets a bereaved father and son when she sneaks out of the convent, and this new relationship accentuates the loneliness of a life dedicated to a God with whom she feels no connection. Rendering characters with refreshing nuance and raw honesty, Pasaribu's is a promising new voice. A beautiful collection that refuses to shy away from the often complex and difficult queer experience. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.