Retarded Literature


Imagine entering a bookstore in Saudi or Indonesia. What are the chances that you might find English books being translated into Arabic/Indonesian? Compared that to the number of books by Saudi/Indonesian authors translated into English, or any other language?

In terms of volume, there maybe plenty of books by Indonesian and Saudi authors being published every month in their respective countries. But these books do not cross borders. Books written by Saudi and Indonesian writers do not travel as far as novels written by American, English or - heck – Desis (Indian, Pakistani, Bengali, Afghani) have.

In fact, you’d see more Japanese than Indonesian comic books in Indonesia, just as much as you’d see translated novel English novels than Saudi - again, in Saudi.

When it comes to international acclaim, Indonesian and Saudi authors brutally compete with each other at being stagnate and obscure.

As diverse as both cultures are, they're both as equally non-existent in the international book market. Correct me if I'm wrong, but when was the last time we heard of an Indonesian or Saudi writer selling books like cupcakes? Fact is, we haven't heard of a modern Saudi or Indonesian writer winning much literary acknowledgment - or merit - from the book industry in the past ten twenty years.

What’s up with that?

Is there a common issue that brought the Indonesian and Saudi authorship into its trodden state in days where books are as obtainable as broadband internet?

pencil erasers in lineWhat the causes are NOT

If the problem is in language barriers, that Arabic and Indonesian are not the lingua franca of the world, then why do we find so much of the Japanese culture embedded in ours? We know more about Geisha, Anime, sake and Samurais than tribal hierarchy in Central Arabia or Kejawen religion in Java.

If the problem is the convolution of the publishing industry, then there should not be so many books being published everyday in the International market and I should not be seeing translated books by Seth Godin in Indonesia.

If the problem is poverty, that Indonesians do not have enough food to sustain them while writing, then books like Harry Potter and Carrie should not have been born; because their writers were broke when writing them.

If the problem is resource curse, that Indonesia and Saudi are countries that suffer from culture shock by the sudden wealth gained from its natural resources, then that is supposed to dismiss both intellectual and material poverty excuse, which is not the case that we find in Saudi and Indonesia.

No, reader, those were NOT the problems, nor excuses that brought the Saudi and Indonesian literature into obscurity on the global stage.

What the causes ARE

A. Genetics.

For one thing, it’s not in our genes to read and write beautifully. In cultures where writing and reading are common behavior for the past century, we see more internationally acclaimed writers in them. There are more writers from the US, China, Japan and Europe because having children who can read is a steady barometer of successful parenting for the past CENTURY.

In Saudi and Indonesian heritage, the barometer of successful parenting is whether or not your child can recite the Qur’an. Writing and reading, for the past hundred years, are uncommon behavior amongst the bedus in the desert or the farmers in the rice fields.

B. Oral Tradition

And before there was religion in these countries, knowledge and wisdom were passed on through generations by oral means. Again, Quran recitations, wayang and diwaniyyat.

Which is probably why, as Indonesians and Saudis, we make great poster children for potential terrorists. Haha.

C. Resource Curse

The other reason is that, while both Saudi and Indonesian societies are patriarchal and socially unequal, these societies are also resource cursed. Had it only been patriarchal and collectivistic, then the same modern intellectual poverty would occur in Japan. If it had only been caused by religion, then the awesome writers Desi from India or the Persians, or the Egyptians would not be so successful in the international book market.

D. E. F.…How to stall the intellectual growth of three generations in a row

I couldn’t separate these three symptoms from each other. They seem to work together like ingredients to a creatively stuck society:

  • First, bring a regime. Put a tyrannical king, president, or even a god of some sort, as head of state. That will limit the thinking process and threaten every mental inclination to misbehave.
  • Next, have a miniature of that king or president or god in every room in the house, dictating to the core of every individual what to do and think and have for dinner.
  • Finally, practice social inequality generously. PS: Girls don't need to go to school.


Writing and reading and book publishing are complex behavior that DEMANDS a lot of HIGHER mental processing. And the combination of the above, oral tradition, religion, patriarchy, social inequality, and dependence on natural resources have been injecting us, Indonesian and Saudis, with frustrating invisibility on the international book market.

The question that remains, then, what are we going to do about that, huh?


PS: If you think this had been a great example of an AWFUL writing, then you have to pardon me; it's just ain't in my genes. Ha.

PPS: Found an article by Richard Oh on the same subject, WHY AREN’T MORE INDONESIAN LITERARY WORKS PUBLISHED ABROAD?

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