World Literature

What to do when raped every night by groups of invading soldiers

An excerpt from an epic Indonesian novel whose closest comparison is ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

When afternoon came and a number of Japanese men began to arrive, the girls began running frantically back and forth. They tried to find some crack through which to slip away, but every place was already guarded. The house’s fairly large yard was surrounded by a high wall, with just one gate in front and a small door in the back, neither of which could possibly be breached. A number of girls tried to climb onto the roof of the house, as if they hoped they could fly away or find a rope there that they could climb up into the sky.

“I already tried everything,” said Dewi Ayu. “There is no escape.”

“We are going to become prostitutes!” shrieked Ola, collapsing and weeping.

“It’s actually worse than that,” said Dewi Ayu. “I don’t think we’re even going to get paid.”

Another girl named Helena immediately accosted the Japanese officers who appeared and accused them of violating their human rights as outlined in the Geneva Convention. Not just the Japanese, but even Dewi Ayu laughed out loud.

“There are no conventions during wartime, honey,” she said.

Out of all of them, that girl Helena appeared to be the most upset by the knowledge that they were going to be made into whores. The funny thing was, she had decided to become a nun before the war came and everything dissolved into chaos. She was the only girl who had brought a prayer book to this place, and now she began to recite a psalm in a loud voice, in front of the Japanese, perhaps hoping the soldiers would run away howling in fear, like evil spirits at an exorcism. But, unexpectedly, the Japanese soldiers were very polite to her and at the end of every prayer they would reply:

“Amen.” While laughing, of course.


“Amen,” she responded, before collapsing weakly into a chair.

An officer brought some sheets of paper, giving one to each of the girls. There was Malay writing on them, which turned out to be the names of different flowers. “These are your new names,” said the officer. Dewi Ayu was excited to see her name: Rose. “Watch out,” she said, “every rose has its thorn.” Another girl got the name Orchid, and another got Dahlia. Ola got the name Alamanda.

They were ordered to go to their rooms while a number of Japanese men lined up at a table on the veranda to buy their tickets. The first night the prices were very expensive, because they believed that the girls were all still virgins. They didn’t know that Dewi Ayu was no longer pure.

Instead of each going to her own room, the girls gathered around Dewi Ayu, who was still testing out the strength of her mattress and commented, “So it turns out someone will make the earthquake on top of it.”

Then the soldiers began to capture the girls one by one, in a battle they won with ease, gripping the girls in their hands like sick kittens thrashing about futilely as they were being taken away. That night Dewi Ayu heard hysterical screams coming from their rooms as the battle continued. A number of the girls even succeeded in running out into the hall stark naked, before the soldiers recaptured them and threw them back on top of their beds.

They wailed all through those terrible unions, and she even heard Helena screaming out a number of psalm verses as a Japanese busted up her vagina. At the same time, she could hear the other Japanese men out on the veranda laughing at all of this uproar.

Only Dewi Ayu didn’t grumble, or let out even a peep. She got a Japanese officer who was tall and big, stocky like a sumo wrestler, with a samurai sword at his waist. Dewi Ayu lay down on top of the bed and looked up toward the heavens, not looking at him at all and certainly not smiling. She appeared to be much more focused on the sounds of the commotion outside her room than to whatever was going on inside it. She lay down like a corpse ready for burial.

When the Japanese officer barked at her to take her clothes off, she remained perfectly still, as if she wasn’t even breathing.

Annoyed, the Japanese took out his samurai sword and brandished it until the flat of its blade touched Dewi Ayu’s face, and he repeated his orders. But Dewi Ayu remained immobile, even as the tip of the sword inscribed a mark upon her cheek. Her eyes still looked up to the heavens and it was still as if her ears were attuned to a faraway sound. Now, growing angry, the Japanese threw down his sword and slapped Dewi Ayu’s face twice, which left behind a red welt and caused her body to sway for a moment, but she maintained her demeanor of infuriating indifference.

Surrendering to his bad luck, the stocky soldier finally tore off the clothes of the woman in front of him, threw them to the floor, and now she was naked. He parted the woman’s two arms and two legs until she was spreadeagled. After appraising the still and silent chunk of flesh before him, he quickly got naked himself, jumped onto the bed, and lay face down on top of Dewi Ayu’s body, assaulting her.

For the whole cold coupling Dewi Ayu stayed in the same position that the Japanese soldier had placed her in, not responding with any heat or warmth or putting up any unnecessary struggle. She didn’t close her eyes, she didn’t smile, she just looked up to the heavens.

Her chilly demeanor had an extraordinary effect: the man didn’t take even three minutes. Two minutes and twenty-three seconds, according to Dewi Ayu’s count as she peered at the grandfather clock in the corner of the room. The Japanese guy rolled to her side and then quickly stood up, grumbling.

He hastily got dressed, and left without saying another word, slamming the door on his way out. Only then did Dewi Ayu move, and smiling quite sweetly, she stretched her body and said:

“What a boring night.”

She got dressed and went to the bathroom. There she found a number of girls washing themselves, as if they could clean off all the feelings of filth and shame and sin with some scoopfuls of water. They didn’t speak to one another.

It wasn’t over yet, because the night was still young and a number of Japanese were still waiting. After bathing, they were forced to go back to their rooms and then there was more struggle and more wailing, except from Dewi Ayu who returned to her frigid bearing.

That night they were taken by four or five men each. What made Dewi Ayu suffer was not the crazy tireless screwing that froze her body in a quiet and mysterious paralysis, but the screams and sobs of her friends. You poor women, she thought. Fighting against the inevitable hurts worse than anything else. Then the next day came.

That morning there was work to do. In despair, Helena had chopped off her hair in jagged chunks and Dewi Ayu had to neaten it out. On the third night, they found Ola almost dead in the bathroom, having tried to slit her wrists. Dewi Ayu quickly carried her to her bedroom, unconscious and soaked to the bone, while Mama Kalong looked for a doctor.

She didn’t die, but nevertheless Dewi Ayu realized that what Ola had experienced was even more gruesome and dire than she had first thought. When Ola had emerged from her crisis, Dewi Ayu said to her:

“‘Ola was raped and she died.’ That is not the souvenir that I want to bring back to Gerda.”

Even though life had already gone on like this for days, a number of girls still could not accept their miserable fate, and Dewi Ayu still heard screams in the middle of the night. Two of the girls still often hid in the hallways or climbed the sapodilla tree behind the house. She then advised them to do what she did every night.

“Lie down like a corpse, until they get bored,” she said. But the girls found that to be even more dreadful. To lie quiet while someone assaulted their body and fucked them, none of them could imagine it.

“Or try to find one guy out of all of them who you like a little, and service him with your full attention, and make him addicted to you so that he will come back every evening and pay you for the entire night. Servicing the same person over and over is way better than sleeping with lots of different men.”

That seemed like a better idea, but it was still too awful for her friends to imagine.

“Or tell them tales like Scheherazade,” she said. Not one of them was good at telling stories. “Invite them to play cards.”
Not one of them could play cards.

“If that’s how it is, then flip the scales,” said Dewi Ayu, giving up. “You rape them.”

Excerpted with permission from Beauty Is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker, Speaking Tiger Books.

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