Bestselling novelist and singer-songwriter Dee Lestari discusses her work, in the fifth of six Q&As with Indonesian authors visiting the London Book Fair as part of the Market Focus programme
Dee Lestari is a bestselling and critically acclaimed writer in Indonesia. She began her literary career with her debut in 2001, a serial novel titled Supernova. Dee is a two-time recipient of Indonesia's Book of The Year Award, and also a two-time recipient of Indonesia Reader's Choice Award as "Favorite Author" and "Favourite Book". Aside from the Supernova series, Dee has published Perahu Kertas (Paper Boats), and three anthologies: Filosofi Kopi (Coffee's Philosophy), Madre, and Rectoverso. Her latest novel, Aroma Karsa (2018), broke the pre-order sales record in Indonesia. She's also known as an accomplished singer-songwriter. She had four albums with her former vocal trio, Rida Sita Dewi (RSD), and produced two solo albums. She writes songs for renowned Indonesian singers.
Could you tell us a bit about your writing?
I'm a fiction writer, and my first book was published in 2001. I'm the type of writer who's in the intersection between literary high-brow culture and pop culture. My work is always a mix of those two worlds; some people say it's not easy to categorise, so I just say I write fiction, basically. I like writing series, I've published 12 books, and six of them are in a series called Supernova. Writing in serials, long story, long plot, is one of my biggest interests. I was influenced by the serial books I read when I was a child, like Enid Blyton's books, and shojo manga from authors such as Yoko Shoji and Suzue Miuchi.
Which of your works have been translated into English and what are the challenges of translation?
From 12 books just two have been translated into English: my first book, Supernova, and Paper Boat. It was interesting, because these two books are actually quite different, they belong to different genres. I must say that translation is very challenging, not only because we don't have a lot of translators from Indonesian to English out there, but also I think translation is what makes or breaks a book. You know, when you get a good translation, then it's like a doorway for a lot of good things, but if you have a bad translation in the beginning then that door is already closed for you. So it's really crucial to have a good translation, and it takes time. Even though I've written 12 books, I know that maybe not all titles will work for the international or global market, so it's a tricky thing... but you know, I'll roll with it I guess, and see what comes!
What do you think the UK could learn from Indonesia?
I think Indonesia has a lot of exciting things to offer: our culture, our thoughts, our various backgrounds. We came from a lot small kingdoms which came into one republic so there are so many varieties of cultures, and these are the kinds of things that we can share with the world.
Dee Lestari has been chosen as one of 12 authors to participate in the Indonesia Market Focus programme at the London Book Fair 2019, and will be interviewed at the English PEN Literary Salon at 12.30 on 12 March. Click here for additional events and more information on the 12 authors and the cultural programme in conjunction with the British Council.