‘Remember the day you must return to me, …’
In fewer than one hundred pages of storytelling, Ms Riwoe creates a character who is now haunting me. Mina is an Indonesian girl living with her parents in a small fishing village. She is chosen by a Dutch merchant to work in his household. Mina did not want to leave home, but the decision is her father’s and she has no choice. Once she arrives, she works in the kitchen with Ibu Tana. One of the things that makes Mina’s new life more bearable is Ajat, the boy from her village who also works there. Mina longs to return to her village, to what is familiar.
‘The fish girl has brought the smell of the sea with her.’
Ms Riwoe brings Mina’s world to life, with her descriptions of food, of people, of the bustle of markets, and of the tropical weather. But while Mina may have the limited freedom to make some choices, her life is no longer her own. And choices often have unforeseen consequences. I find myself wondering whether (and how) Mina’s life could have been different once she left the fishing village.
This novella was a joint winner of the 2017 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. It was sparked by the description of a ‘Malay Trollope’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story ‘The Four Dutchmen.’