A Mother’s Unfailing Love at the Heart of Poetic Novel ‘Ibuk’
Best-selling author Iwan Setyawan is back with a new book titled “Ibuk,” about a year after his debut novel, “9 Summers 10 Autumns,” was published.
While “9 Summers 10 Autumns” was an autobiographical novel about Iwan’s move from Malang, a small town in East Java, to New York, one of the world’s busiest cities, his latest book takes a more poetic approach to portray the hardships and joys of motherhood.
“Ibuk” is a simple but engaging love story. The first half is occasionally heart-wrenching, as Iwan introduces us to the humble life of Ngatinah, or Tinah, a young girl who grew up in poverty and was unable to finish school.
Despite her hardships, 17-year-old Tinah has become a refined young woman who attracts a lot of attention. She is obedient and attentive, helping her grandmother Mbok Pah take care of her shop at the local market.
One day, Mbok Pah tells Tinah she is old enough to get married. She would like to match up Tinah with Cak Ali, who owns a tempeh shop at the same market.
Instead, however, Tinah falls in love with Abdul Hasyim, or Sim, a ladies’ man who works as an assistant for a public minibus, or angkot, driver.
Keeping every chapter short but compelling, Iwan slowly brings Sim deeper into Tinah’s life.
During the early stages of their relationship, Iwan captures the innocent moments shared between two teenagers at a time when marriage at a young age was still the norm.
Soon enough, Tinah and Sim become ibuk (mother) and bapak (father) to five children.
The novel does not have a staggering conflict at its center, but is rather about a series of unfortunate events in the life of a woman who enters motherhood too quickly. Though she is still young, Tinah lives up to the responsibilities of parenting because real life simply can’t wait for her to adapt.
“Ibuk” portrays a loving marriage that develops without grand plans or exaggerated demands. Sim is honest about what he earns and Tinah does not ask for more.
Tinah does, however, show her strength. Even though she was expected to marry at a young age, she is strong-willed enough to settle for her own choice rather than that of her grandmother, demonstrating that despite her calm and fragile appearance, she is a very determined woman.
Her strength shines throughout the book, as Iwan reveals how dedicated she is to raising her children despite very limited resources, knowledge and proper health care.
Tinah experiences a miscarriage and tends to her children during sickness. She also helps her husband when his old angkot continues to break down and he cannot afford to buy a new one.
Her silent struggle is the most touching part of the story, along with her unfailing devotion to her family when times are tough.
After “9 Summers 10 Autumns,” it seems Iwan wanted to show that he could not have achieved his own success if his parents had not raised him and his siblings as they did.
Like his debut, “Ibuk” is autobiographical in parts, as it tells the story of a family that has a strong bond and always sticks together.
To read “Ibuk” is to be touched and humbled by characters who struggle for a better life.
There is a saying that love can’t feed your children. While this definitely contains literal truth, “Ibuk” shows that at the end of the day, love is the strongest motive to keep you going in good times and bad.
Published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama