Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash
(translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker)
Text Publishing: 2017
It’s easy to mistake Eka Kurniawan’s pulpy third novel, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, for a fun read of little substance. The main plot centres on the protagonist’s inability to get hard. Graphic sex abounds, as do brawls, shootings and slapstick. Take the part where Ajo Kawir, the main character, tries to “wake” his penis by subjecting it to bee stings, or the paragraph that treats us to the thoughts of a house gecko on a ceiling before it shits on a character’s head.
In short, Vengeance is a different animal from Eka’s first two novels, though more akin in pitch, pace and subject matter to his second — Man Tiger, which was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize — than to his sprawling and lyrical first, Beauty Is a Wound.
A shift in style was perhaps inevitable: Vengeance came out in Indonesia in 2014, ten years after the original version of Man Tiger (Lelaki Harimau). But Eka has always been open about the impression made on him by trashy novels. A Sydney Morning Herald article from August 2015 mentions they were a major component of his childhood “diet”. When asked about his literary influences, he has named international greats such as Gabriel García Márquez, Herman Melville and Nikolai Gogol, yes, but also Abdullah Harahap (a prolific horror writer in the 1970s and 1980s) and Kho Ping Hoo (a popular author of martial-arts pulps). After the publication of the Indonesian edition of Man Tiger, Eka collaborated with fellow writers Ugoran Prasad and Intan Paramaditha on a collection of creepy stories paying homage to Abdullah Harahap. The fruits of the project were published in 2010 as Kumpulan Budak Setan (which roughly translates as The Devil’s Slaves Club).