Man Tiger begins with a moment of shocking, explicit violence.
What motivated it? You won’t find out until the very final pages, after Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan takes you on a strange, circuitous journey that is both firmly grounded in the squalid grit of real life but also suffused with the supernatural.
I really enjoyed Kurniawan’s rollicking crime thriller Vengenace is Mine, All Others Pay Cash last year so couldn’t wait to dive back in to his confronting magical realist vision of Indonesia. I didn’t enjoy Man Tiger quite so much – it lacks the straightforward kinetic energy of the other book – but it confirms Kurniawan is incredibly and diversely talented.
It tells the story of Margio, a young Indonesian villager who just so happens to have a viscious white tiger living with inside him. When Margio brutally murders Anwar Sadat (no, not the famous one), we initially have no idea why: but the mystery is eventually solved through flashbacks that tell the story of both their troubled families.
This is a more allegorical book than Vengeance, with plenty to say about violence – particularly against women – marriage and poverty. And, in a way, about Indonesia’s colonial history. That’s a lot to pack into just 150 pages, and further cements Kurniawan as one of the world’s most interesting authors.