Selected by Aracelis Girmay, A Tinderbox in Three Acts is at once elegy and exegesis, fact and invention.
In her fourth poetry collection, Cynthia Dewi Oka performs a lyric accounting of the anti-Communist genocide of 1965, which, led by the Indonesian military and with American assistance, erased and devastated millions of lives in Indonesia. Under the New Order dictatorship that ruled by terror for over three decades in the aftermath, perpetrators of the killings were celebrated as national heroes while survivors were systemically silenced. Drawing on US state documents that were only declassified in recent years, Oka gives form and voice to the ghosts that continue to haunt subsequent generations despite decades of state-produced amnesia and disinformation.
In service of recovering what must not be remembered, A Tinderbox in Three Acts repurposes the sanitized lexicon of official discourse, imagines an emotional syntax for the unthinkable, and employs synesthetic modes of perception to convey that which exceeds language. Here, the boundary between singular and collective consciousness is blurred. Here, history as an artifact of the powerful is trumped by the halting memory of the people whom power sought to destroy. Where memory fails, here is poetry to honor the dishonored, the betrayed, the lost and still-awaited.
Praise For A Tinderbox in Three Acts
“I cannot say enough how critical this work is for its history, specificity, and devotion. At its center churn insurmountable, incomprehensible brutalities. These are the facts. But Oka and her fellow organizers, researchers, artists, carriers of this history are also facts. With imagination and the sharpest tools, she cuts opening after opening into the page. This book is a fire. A ceremony. An unburying. It is a tremendous honor to walk behind Cynthia and this truly essential work.”
— Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria
“Reading A Tinderbox in Three Acts is akin to ‘discovering our wet heart like a banner among the leaves’. This, this, this is a book so many have been waiting for. Structurally imaginative, it is an epic and profound acknowledgment of suppressed nightmares on a gargantuan scale, with a cutting honesty on how they are reflected back to us under Empire’s gaze.
I read this artwork with my heart in my throat—witnessing a voice that says virtuosically what Indonesians as a population have kept and kept in our bodies for generations. Cynthia Dewi Oka writes in a lineage of defiant artists who were killed, exiled or otherwise hurt for taking on this subject, and this book is a freedom—scalpel-cut from the tangled, corporeal forest of intergenerational trauma, from Western complicity in the ’65-’66 genocide and the decades of violence after. She fills (literal and metaphorical) holes with canny, sensitive, brilliant fictioning. Against ‘the ministry of bones’ that is the New Order dictatorship’s brutality and lasting impact, she writes, ‘If there is a branch you cannot / reach, throw a rope and struggle / together.’ For, as Cynthia reminds us: ‘what is a nation after all if not a series of revisions’. Brava, selamat, an ovation for these three acts.”
— Khairani Barokka, author of Ultimatum Orangutan
Publication Date: 10/11/2022