Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan. ★★1/2
Trigger warning: rape
There’s not a whole lot I like about Man Tiger. When you get right down to it, the only element I find intriguing is the structure. Maybe it’s just too literary for me?
Man Tiger starts with a revelation that shakes a small, rural Indonesian community: Margio, a local youth, has murdered his neighbor Anwar Sadat. Instead of moving forward in a linear fashion, Man Tiger instead turns back in on itself, meandering through the past to explain everything that led to the murder.
There is an element of the supernatural to Man Tiger – a female white tiger lives inside of Margio, and he claims it is she who committed the crime. However, Man Tiger is less fantasy and more magical realism. The supernatural elements play only a small role in the story, and the white tiger is more symbolic than anything else.
The opening of the book made it look like it wouldn’t be involving female characters at all, but that turned out not to be the case. As the story moves on, the narrative focuses quite a bit on Margio’s mother and sister. However, I still feel like there was an odd amount of focus on the female characters breasts (what’s with repeatedly calling a young girl’s breasts “unripe”?). In this case, it could be an issue of the translation, but it was still enough to make me roll my eyes.
The narrative of Man Tiger feels peculiarly detached. As a stylistic choice, it’s not my favorite. I prefer to get immersed in the narrative and emotions of the events. Man Tiger also ended up feeling tangential and bloated, despite being only a hundred and seventy pages long.
I suspect that Man Tiger is aimed at a very different sort of reader than me. I’m sure it’s brimming with literary merit, but it reminded me more of a lackluster English class assignment than anything else.