Review: Eka Kurniawan's 'Man Tiger'

This story starts with a young man committing murder, but the reader doesn’t find out why until the very end. Margio has inherited a supernatural tigress from his grandfather that has burrowed inside of him. The tiger is protective of Margio and his sister Mameh, his mother Nuraeni, and his baby sister Mariam. The novel was long-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2016, heralding Eka Kurniawan’s arrival in the international literary stage as a great representative of contemporary Indonesian literature.

The novel unravels themes of generational tragedy, loss of innocence, and domestic violence in a raw and honest way. Margio knows he needs to control the beast inside of him, but the violence around him -indeed the violence that gave birth to him- are more than anyone can take. Margio’s family is brutalized by their father throughout the novel, but it’s not a special case or an isolated incident. Kurniawan gives us a glimpse into the class and gender relations of the entire village and gives us a sense of the misogyny so recognizable in most cultures.

The anger that children who grow up around and experience domestic violence feel is a complex and indeed supernatural thing. With violence becomes hereditary and cyclical. Therefore, Kurniawan’s choice of including this supernatural element is a very smart choice. Yet, Kurniawan doesn’t let this aspect of the novel take over the actual story. The narrative is still very much character driven.

Kurniawan’s decision to name not just the crime that concludes the story, but also the victim and murder in the very first line is a very interesting one. The reader is roped in immediately, and as the story progresses the motive for the crime gets over more elusive and complex. The translator did a good job in translated well crafted prose and and maintaining a pace that rarely drops the suspense.

This is a novel with very intense and triggering themes, recommended for people who like social commentary literary fiction and for those curious to diversify their shelf.