The Sea Speaks His Name by Leila S. Chudori

The Sea Speaks His Name by Leila Chudori

The Sea Speaks His Name sets in the 90’s of Indonesia under Suharto. Inspired by true events, Leila S. Chudori wrote a heartbreaking story of a group of student activists being abducted, tortured and interrogated by the military. The book was first published in Indonesian as Laut Bercerita and then translated into English by John McGlynn.

First part of the book was told by the protagonist, Biru Laut, an English Literature student. He was thrown into the sea and drowned to death after being tortured viciously for months. As he was taking his last breath through his pain, he recounted what happened to him in the past—from his time with his loving family to all the adventurous political movement he had planned and participated along with his group of university friends. Through his powerfully evocative voice, Laut shared the episodes while he was one the run as a fugitive as well as his hellish encounter while he and his friends were kidnapped.

In second part, Laut’s sister Asmara, a recent medical graduate, shared about the experience she and other families of kidnapped students faced as they tried to find out for the disappearance of their loved ones. When she didn’t hear anything about her brother after some of Laut’s friends were released, she and her parents were in total despair. With no news about Laut after two years, she started to accept that her brother was totally gone forever. However, her parents were in denial and still hoped that Laut would walk in at anytime during their family’s Sunday ritual dinner.

Throughout the book, Laut was such a remarkable character with multiple qualities. He was an emphatic writer, a caring son, a supportive brother, a doting lover, a kind friend, an altruistic activist and a courageous comrade. Despite the inhumane tortures he had received, he asked his beloved ones to be hopeful and not to dwell too much in the past. Asmara, one the other hand, was the pragmatic one with strong will. She had to bear the substantial weight and had to be the rock of the family. She kept looking out for the news of her brother and other disappeared students.

The book focuses on the political repressions these student activists in Indonesia encountered and the traumatic events they had to live with. It also showcases the government’s preposterous injustice towards the families and the loved ones of the students who never returned home. Both storytelling and translation are poignant yet very engaging. I cried when I was reading Laut’s haunting story as well as when Asmara shared the harrowing story of those who were left with no answer. I was sobbing and reading through tears when I read the epilogue.

Thank you so much @leilachudori for writing such a monumental book through these powerful characters. Definitely one of my favourite reads of 2020. Family, friendship, love, courage, loyalty, pain, loss, betrayal, and faith are interwoven with the characters and stories and an eloquent political drama was told passionately. A powerful book that tugs my heartstrings. I loved it immensely and it was such a compelling read.

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