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Indonesia Teen Sci-Fi Novel ‘Najima’ Tackles Heavy Issues Head-On


Kanaya N. Ozora launched her first book ‘Najima,’ a teen sci-fi novel written in English, in Jakarta on Saturday. (JG Photo/Nur Yasmin)

JAKARTA, Indonesia –  A new novel written in English by teen writer Kanaya N. Ozora, titled “Najima,” raises the issues of social segregation and cultural identity and manages to pack them into a heartwarming teen-lit story.

Kanaya, a young writer who has been learning her trade at the Indonesia Writing Edu Center (Iwec), is earning a lot of praise for Najima, which means “stars” in Arabic.

The teen sci-fi novel is a real page-turner, but does not shy away from talking about serious issues, especially social friction and identity politics.

It also explores the themes of cultural diversity, family, friendship and teen romance.

It took Kanaya eight months to write the book, juggling her creative writing with school homework.

She said she was intrigued by the social issues she learned in her history class and decided to explore them in depth in her first novel.

The novel’s protagonist is Kinasih, the princess of Bumi – a fictional representation of Java.

Kinasih discovers a machine called Star that leads her to a place called Ardtoprak, a barely disguised representation of the Arab world.

Kareem, an Ardtoprak prince, leads Kinasih into his world and shows how different and secluded their worlds are to each other.

The main difference, though, is that Bumi citizens lead a much more secular life than the Ardtopraks.

“I choose to represent Javanese culture because I want to promote it; it’s still very rare to find in English literature. Then I took on Arab culture because of its connection [with Javanese culture], for example, they are both very influenced by Islam,” the ninth-grader said.

Najima is one of the very few teen novels in Indonesia to approach the issue of social segregation in a critical way.

Kanaya, who was brought up in a Javanese family, said that despite her parochial upbringing she wrote her novel through the lens of a global citizen.

“I want the readers to imagine what our world would be like if we acknowledged how diverse life could be and is,” Kanaya said.

Philips J. Vermonte, the executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), praised the novel’s attention to the marginalized in society and its discussion of gender equality.

“She is only 14 years old but doesn’t shirk from quite heavy subjects. I think she has a long career ahead of her,” Philips said.

Beta Perwata, the founder of Tabeta Creative Space, said as an adult she could still relate to the story.

“Very heavy and deep coming from a 14-year-old. She also took quite a risk in the novel’s narrative by writing it from Kareem’s perspective, who is an Arab man,” Beta said.

Kanaya plans to write more novels after graduating from junior high school. Her favorite genres are fantasy and sci-fi.

Publisher Iwec has not announced when the book will be available in bookstores but said it will be in the collection of the National Library soon.


From: JAKARTA GLOBE (Indonesia) October 8, 2019

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