A fellow queer Christian, from an utterly different context. Indonesian literature has been in the literary news since the country guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. But now it gets personal: Sergius Seeks Bacchus. This slim volume is filled with lovers and mothers and dreams of a future where you can walk hand in hand unscathed – and what it’s like when the dream seems far, far away.
Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers who loved each other, early martyrs of the Christian church just before it became the faith of empire. The religious and homoerotic imagery intertwine here beautifully naturally.
This is the first book I’ve read in translation from Indonesian, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But Norman Erikson Pasaribu and Tiffany Tsao have set a high bar. Tsao describes her collaboration with Pasaribu and how much she learned from him along the way. Indonesian uses a gender neutral pronoun, like singular ‘they’ in English, and she found herself projecting ‘he’ and ‘she’ onto her translations of his poems, straightening out the queerness quite unconsciously. Making that process conscious, messaging, listening to the author’s recordings of himself reading the poems aloud, rewriting as a result of what the translator did with the text – it sounds like a fruitful partnership. I wonder what seeds are sprouting into the next collection?