Okky Madasari is not a new name on the Indonesian literature scene, but her name is foreign to readers of children’s literature. The newly published titles Mata di Tanah Melus (Mata in the Melus Land) and Mata dan Rahasia Pulau Gapi (Mata and the Secrets of Gapi Island) are successful attempts at seizing new readership.
The series focus on 12-year-old Matara, inspired by the author’s own daughter, Mata Diraya, and her adventures in various parts of Indonesia. The first book,Mata di Tanah Melus, is set at Belu, a border city between Indonesia and Timor Leste, while the second story takes place in Ternate, part of the Moluccas group of islands.
In both books, Okky unearths some folk tales that are relatively unknown to those from outside the area, especially for, ahem, Jakarta city-dwellers. The stories remind us that there are other lives outside Java, which are no less important than what is happening in the capital, and that Indonesia does not revolve around Jakarta.
Short and intended for a young audience, the books are infused with values and messages that make Okky Madasari Okky Madasari. While venturing into the land of the Melus, Matara finds herself trapped in an ancient conflict between the indigenous Melus tribe and the Bunag newcomers. In the second book, Matara is again at the center of the ubiquitous battle between tradition and development.
The fact that these hefty issues are delivered through the perspective of a child creates a powerful and compelling narrative without being preachy. With a mix of fantasy and witty banter among the characters, the stories are entertaining for any reader. The short chapters and pencil-drawn illustrations make the series an easy read for children, while adults can surely finish a book in one sitting.
Written by an Indonesian and revolving about diverse local characters, the Mataseries is a long-overdue read for Indonesian children. Through her stories, Okky Madasari takes us back to how an Indonesian child sees the country and the world around it.