As I had predicted, that afternoon Eka Kurniawan was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a business shirt (or even a checked shirt, which has been common attire in Indonesia since the 2014 Jakarta gubernatorial election). He was sitting at a table in the crowded food court of Pondok Indah Mall, having Japanese hot plate for lunch. After that, for our interview he picked Regal Coffee Factory, a small cafe inside the shopping centre. Only two other people were there. “Sometimes I come here because nobody else does,” Eka said, in his typically relaxed manner.
I first met Eka in 2014. We have a mutual editor, and she had asked me to come to one of his events. For a male Indonesian writer he’s really pleasant to talk to. We’ve often caught up over coffee and shared what we’re reading: César Aira, Jenny Erpenbeck, Sjón — the list keeps growing. He’s been blogging for almost eighteen years now, mostly posting short reviews of books he’s read. His blog’s archive is a trove of recommendations.
I see him as a bit of a loner. In an email to me he once called himself a “shy, shy cat”. Yet he had writer friends around the world long before he became famous. “You young [Indonesian] writers shouldn’t travel in a pack,” he said to me once, at a dinner during the 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. “You should mix more and get to know writers from around the world.” I’ll always remember that about him.