The journey to find yourself has long been used as a literary metaphor.
Ever since Homer wrote his classic epic the “Odyssey” thousands of years ago, the theme has continued with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” tales, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”
But one author has sought to turn this theme on its head.
Christophe Dorigne-Thomson’s debut book, “Jakarta: A Novel,” follows the story of Edwin Marshall and his bizarre journey of self discovery.
As a young Frenchman of Anglo-French descent, just like Dorigne-Thomson himself, Marshall is disillusioned with the course that Europe, particularly France, is taking. Marshall rails against the French elite, which he sees as an aging oligarchy unwilling to let go of its grip on political and economic power. He also deplores its ultra-conservatism and resistance to change, which is reflected by its fears of immigration and unwillingness to give young people a larger say in their future.
Marshall is initially content to do what is expected of him by going to a university in Paris and plans to take a job in a bank or a financial firm. While he increasingly becomes disenchanted with what he sees as the growing nihilism of university life, his world is shattered following the death of his younger brother Nigel in a car accident. Deep in mourning and disillusioned with his life, Marshall meets John, a stranger who gives him an offer he can’t refuse as a contract killer.
As Marshall begins to travel around the world carrying out hits for major corporations and certain countries, he witnesses firsthand how the global economy is tilting in favor of developing countries. But while Marshall makes a fortune from his work, it fails to fill the void left by Nigel’s death.
It is at this point that a chance assignment to Indonesia changes the course of Marshall’s life and takes him to Jakarta.
Despite the title, Jakarta only takes up the last quarter of the book. Dorigne-Thomson manages to balance out the space with his vivid portrayal of places like the Stadium club and the Martini Bar in the Grand Kemang Hotel.
Like Dorigne-Thomson, his anti-hero Marshall is energized by the Big Durian’s hustle and bustle. He is obviously content to be swept away by the chaos, in contrast to many residents or visitors who are physically and emotionally drained by the experience. However, the novel’s sparse dialogue gives it an introspective feel that contrasts with its constantly changing settings.
Dorigne-Thomson indirectly alludes to Indonesia’s economic potential by portraying the clout of countries like Brazil and India, two developing states with emerging economies that aggressively develop opportunities that come their way.
He also makes an allusion to Indonesian democracy through his description of Stadium. Dorigne-Thomson portrayed the club as a microcosm of Indonesian society where the rich and poor, and both law-abiding individuals and underworld figures, can mingle and have a good time under one roof. On the other hand, Marshall’s victims are a metaphor for Dorigne-Thomson’s progress from a naive youth to a weary man whose journey to find himself comes full circle in one unlikely place — Jakarta.
Dorigne-Thomson proves that sometimes outsiders have a wider, more in-depth perspective about a country’s potential than its own people. And while some readers may be a bit caught off guard by the high fictional body count in the book, its themes of self discovery, seeking the place where we belong, and making our way in the world will certainly resonate with many.
Jakarta: A Novel
By Christophe Dorigne-Thomson
Published By Gramedia