July 11, 2008

Novel Review

Novel gives knowing peek into dirty oil business

cited from The Jakarta Post, Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Cinta di Marindo Oil
Puti Lenggo
Djambatan, 2005
328 pp.

Writing under the pen name Puti Lenggo, the author of Cinta di Marindo Oil (Love at Marindo Oil) originally wrote this novel in English, titled Down with The Oil, and finished it in October 2004. Puti thought at the time that, if she wrote in Bahasa Indonesia, it would be difficult for her to find an Indonesian publisher who would dare to publish the book.

Cinta di Marindo Oil covers in detail the "mega corruption practices" of Indonesia's oil industry under Soeharto's 32-year reign until 1998, and even few years after that.

On reading the English version, readers will soon find that the writer's mastery of that language is quite decent. Puti worked at two English-language newspapers in Jakarta, including The Jakarta Post in the 1980s -- a fact that is mentioned on the back cover -- before entering the oil business, which she describes as "another field". She has also experienced living abroad, such as in London.

Although Puti does not explicitly identify the oil company that is central to Cinta di Marindo Oil, as the story reveals her knowledge about the "deep secrets" of the "slick oil business" -- for instance, how Army generals and Soeharto's cronies milked the company, and about the system "ala mafia" of importing crude oil and distributing fuel oil to the domestic market -- it is clear she worked for a major oil company.

When Puti offered her manuscript to a major bookstore and publisher in Jakarta that mostly sells English books, apparently its editor rejected it, saying her novel was uninteresting.

Then she visited another major publishing company, PT Grasindo, which asked her to translate the book into Bahasa Indonesia.

"However, after reading the translated version, the editor told me they couldn't publish the book because its content was controversial, especially as regards the 'mafia' of the fuel oil business in our country," the writer recently told a friend.

She eventually found a publishing company, PT Penerbit Djambatan, which specializes in publishing works of literature; as a result, Cinta di Marindo Oil has been available in major bookstores in Indonesia since January 2006.

Cinta di Marindo Oil tells the story of Ratna, a senior public relations officer at the Marindo Oil company, and the ups and downs of her relationship with husband Burhan, a proud Minang man who cares more about his status within Minang society than the fact that Ratna must support not just their family but also her husband's "generosity" toward his relatives in West Sumatra.

Ratna becomes involved in complex internal intrigue while she also has an affair with Hassan, a young technocrat who naively tries to clean up the company from its dirty practices.

The most interesting parts of the novel concern the scheming among the elite to dip their fingers in the lucrative oil industry. Powerful generals, politicians and those with close ties to Soeharto can easily force the oil company to grant them a large concession for their introduction to oil contractors and procurement companies.

Smuggling oil to neighboring countries is rampant and the company often pretends ignorance of this, because the illicit trade involves the military or even "hoodlum" politicians. No special skills are necessary to qualify for enjoying the lucrative oil business when people have strong political connections to the First Family.

"Much collusion existed in the past between powerful officials at the state oil company, Marindo Oil management and government officials. There is even strong suspicion over money manipulation," Ratna writes in her diary (p. 68).

The writer, however, is often hesitant about revealing the darker side of the oil industry -- apparently because she is worried about her own safety. So she punishes corruptors in the business by declaring them "impotent".

Just a few days ago, British-based Author House reportedly expressed an interest in publishing an English version of her novel, and a production company has indicated it would like to make a film adaptation.

When the English-language version of Cinta di Marindo Oil is realized, foreign readers will get a chance to take a peek -- albeit from a distance -- into the corrupt oil industry of Indonesia. ***


rikha said...

I like the novel of Puti Lenggo. I read it. It's about love and un loyal love with the background of politic, economy and situation right now. I like reading it.
Thank you. I hope young generation read it