New ‘Supernova’ Installment Rides a Never-Ending Journey
After eight years, author Dewi “ Dee” Lestari is back with another installment in her “Supernova” series.
In each “Supernova” novel, Dee presents the stories of the central characters with a twist of science. The fourth book of the series, “Partikel” (“Particle”) revolves around a young girl named Zarah who lives in the small village of Batu Luhur, in Bogor.
Zarah’s weird but brilliant scientist father Firas is a professor of mycology who decides to teach Zarah and her younger sister, Harah at home, which seems bizarre to other villagers. They can’t seem to comprehend Firas as he toils away in his laboratory talking to plants and making multiple journeys to Bukit Jambul, a feared and spooky hill for what he says are research purposes.
Through her father’s eccentric lifestyle and teaching, Zarah’s knowledge far exceeds that of the average high school student. But at age 12, Zarah loses Firas, who disappears without a trace. The only thing that connects her with her mad scientist father was his journal, which she keeps hidden.
Once a home-schooled student, Zarah must now attend a formal high school. She befriends Koso, an African girl who suffers from dyslexia. With her new-found friendship, Zarah helps Koso study and realizes that she has a duty. Like a “Partikel,” Zarah, who felt that she didn’t have any meaning in life, now feels her obligation is to help other people. She also decides to look for her missing father.
On her 17th birthday, Zarah receives a camera as a birthday present from an unknown person, and she finds that her passion for photography allows her to travel the world. She wins a photography competition and is awarded a trip to travel to a forest preservation in Kalimantan, where she decides to stay. In Kalimantan, she baby sits an orangutan, and meets fellow professional photographers from around the world who later offer her a job opportunity in London.
The later part of the story might surprise readers — it includes people Zarah meets along the way, as well as the places she goes to give her a chance to see life differently, and to understand her own life.
In “Partikel,” Dee voices her concerns about the environment, education, family and love. As the story unfolds, Zarah gradually begins to understand issues beyond the science, including metaphysics, spiritualism, well-being and self-healing.
Dee also raises one of the biggest questions of all: Are we alone in this universe? “Partikel” reflects on human existence and our longing to life outside the Earth.
Zarah is a representation of our yearning for closeness with nature, which is often neglected. Through her perspective, readers begin to look at the world with a different point of view.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long to meet other Dee’s fascinating characters in her next “Supernova” chapters.
Olin Monteiro is a writer and feminist working in Jakarta.