Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha

The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha
First published in Indonesian as Gentayangan: Pilih Sendiri Petualangan Sepatu Merahmu by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in Indonesia in 2017. English language translation by Stephen J Epstein published by Vintage in February 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You’ve grown roots, you’re gathering moss. You’re desperate to escape your boring life teaching English in Jakarta, to go out and see the world. So you make a Faustian pact with a devil, who gives you a gift, and a warning. A pair of red shoes to take you wherever you want to go.

You’re forever wandering, everywhere and nowhere, but where is your home?
And where will you choose to go?
To New York, to follow your dreams?
To Berlin or Amsterdam? Lima or Tijuana? Or onto a train that will never stop?

The choices you make about which pages to turn to may mean you’ll become a tourist or an undocumented migrant, a mother or a murderer, and you will meet many travellers with their own stories to tell. As your paths cross and intertwine, you’ll soon realise that no story is ever new.

The Wandering is a novel about the highs and lows of global nomadism, the politics and privileges of travel and desire, and the freedoms and limitations of the choices we make, by one of Asia’s most exciting writers. It’s a reminder that borders are real, and a playful experiment that turns the traditional adventure story on its head.

The Wandering is an updated and most definitely adult version of the Choose Your Own Adventure story books which used to exasperate me as a child. Before you assume this will be a negative review though, let me start by talking about all the aspects of The Wandering that I really liked! The initial premise of a woman frustrated with her life who is given the fantastical opportunity - although not the most practical footwear - to tear up her roots and travel the world appealed to me greatly. I instantly connected with our unnamed heroine and found myself increasingly empathising with her as her journeys progressed.

Paramaditha takes in a wide range of influences from Dorothy's red shoes in The Wizard Of Oz to traditional folk tales, the plight of modern day refugees and the writings of Brecht. In combination, all these disparate ideas make for a lot of unexpected twists and turns and, I felt, gave The Wandering a light hearted playfulness that I particularly enjoyed. Paramaditha's deft descriptions allow her to concisely create atmospheric scenarios that I was happy to go along with and to believe in, even though outside of The Wandering's world, the setups would be completely implausible!

However, although otherwise I did like The Wandering, it turns out that I still am not best suited to the Choose Your Own Adventure format. Admittedly it is less infuriating in an ebook because clicking the next page number allows an instant jump rather than all that thumbing pages back and forth, but I still find the reading to be too bitty. When I settle down with a 400-odd page book, I want to be immersed in its story for hours. I don't like to abruptly find myself at Finis half an hour later and having to reread the first chapters in order to start afresh. The Wandering would be a better choice for people who like to dip into their books, set them aside and return later. For devourers like me, it ultimately just didn't satisfy.

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