My 2015: A Frazzled New Mother’s Year in Reading

Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower took me by the hand, led me up the stairs, and pushed me off the roof.

2015 was an eventful year, to put things mildly. I lumbered into it heavy with child, in mid-March I gave birth to a bundle of joy, and post-mid-March has been spent living with said bundle of joy—an experience filled for the most part with elation, excitement, and gratefulness, with a good dose of exhaustion, frustration, and terror.

In other news, I completed the manuscript of my second novel, worked with my publisher to see my first novel The Oddfits through the final stages of editing and proofing (it comes out on February 1, 2016!), and filled in remaining cracks with a few smaller projects—translation, writing, and editing. Chaos took the opportunity to reign supreme in our apartment. What you could see of the apartment between the eternal hillocks of yet-to-be-folded laundry.

Don’t look at the bathroom. For the love of God, don’t look at the bathroom.

And somehow, thankfully, I managed to read. In hindsight, reading is perhaps what kept me sane…if it could be called sanity. Audiobooks were useful when I didn’t have a hand free but still needed to be in motion. And it was nice to be read to, though my choices were hardly the stuff comforting bedtime stories are made of. With the relentless cynicism of Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh cackling in my ears, I saw the world’s cheeks drained of their rosy hue; and I cackled along. Aravind Adiga’s Last Man in Tower took me by the hand, led me up the stairs, and pushed me off the roof. Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son set me adrift on a nightmarish sea, the pitching so constant, however, that I almost felt as if I were being rocked in a cradle.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read any baby-related books, though not as many as one might think: while taking cover in the trenches, one hardly has the time to pore over Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Ezzo and Bucknam’s On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep was read at breakneck pace over two sleepless nights. Rapley and Murkett’s Baby-Led Weaning was skimmed through when two front teeth made their menacing appearance earlier than expected. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year was a pleasant break from practicality, and documented with admirable accuracy the beautiful mess of first-time parenthood.

Indonesian and Indonesia-related books, as always, made up a large portion of my reading list. Maria Dermoût’s The Ten Thousand Things made me melancholic about parenthood, while Ayu Utami’s Cerita Cinta Enrico [Enrico’s Love Story] made me pensive about childhood and adolescence. Laksmi Pamuntjak’s Aruna dan Lidahnya [Aruna and Her Palate] served up a buoyant yet substantial paean to Indonesia’s cuisine and indictment of its healthcare system that could rival any soufflé. I re-read Eka Kurniawan’s Lelaki Harimau and finally read Cantik Itu Luka in anticipation of their English translations, Man Tiger and Beauty is a Wound, which I also read. In hindsight, I wonder if I should have read the translations first: it is difficult to fully immerse oneself in a translation when haunted by the ghost of the original—and the ghosts of these novels are powerful ones. Last but not least, I rounded off the year with From Now On Everything Will Different by Eliza Vitri Handayani. And I think its starry-yet-sober-eyed vigor will stay with me well into 2016.

Tiffany Tsao is Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Indonesia. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Transnational LiteratureLontar, and the collection Contemporary Asian-Australian Poets (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013). She holds a PhD in English from UC Berkeley. Her first novel, The Oddfits (Amazon Crossing), will be out on Feb 1, 2016.