BERANI by Michelle Kadarusman (published by Allen & Unwin)
Everything Michelle Kadarusman writes is thoughtful, original and important.
Michelle tells us more about her latest middle-fiction novel, Berani, at PaperbarkWords blog:
Environment, conservation and how we interact with nature and its creatures inspires most of my writing, but none more so than my latest middle-grade novel, Berani.
The story is drawn from a real-life experience I had as a young woman, living in Indonesia. My brother came across a caged orangutan in a small restaurant in East Java so we alerted an animal rescue organization to free her. The female orangutan had been in the captivity for so long, it was necessary to cut open the cage because she had outgrown the opening. While thankfully the orangutan was liberated, it was this detail that stayed with me.
Later as a children’s author I wondered how I might use this memory in my writing, but it wasn’t until I read about current youth activism in the region protesting the palm oil industry that I had an idea of how I could bring the environmental and human themes together for a novel.
In Berani two middle-schoolers, one a youth activist from a privileged background, the other a chess novice from a farming village, come together to liberate a captive orangutan. The story is told in three voices including the orangutan, Ginger Juice.
After writing my first novel set in Indonesia, Girl of the Southern Sea, about a young girl living in the Jakarta slums, it was important to me that I write something from another perspective, offering a further glimpse into Indonesian culture, one not steeped in poverty. Indonesia is so much more than stories of hardship, it’s a cultural mosaic and multilayered country with many faces and socio-economic groups.
The country’s palm oil agriculture is an example of its complexity. Why are rare and endangered species like orangutans caged? Why are their habitats, ancient rainforests, being destroyed? The answers are not as simple as they might seem. I should stress, the novel isn’t intended to judge, rather to try and gain deeper perspectives that are accessible for young readers. Who gets to go to school? Who belongs? These are further questions I raise in the story.
Like the character, Malia, I have an Indonesian parent and a parent from a western culture. In middle grade years especially, we can struggle with self-identity. For those of us with parents from different backgrounds it can be more confusing because we perhaps feel the need to have an alliance with one culture over the other. There are no right or wrong answers of course, it’s a personal journey. But I was interested to introduce the theme with Malia’s character and show some of her inner struggles and ultimately her willingness to explore her personal cultural identity.
Ari’s character represents, to a certain extent, a collective consciousness. He lives in his uncle’s restaurant where Ginger Juice is kept. Ari is faced with moral conundrums, but like many of us, he is torn about doing what is right.
I’m often asked why I chose to give Ginger Juice a voice in the book. I think it’s because of the orangutan that my brother and I found long ago, I wanted to go deeply into her story. Hers were the most challenging passages to write, especially as my research pointed to the fact that we are so similar in DNA, an orangutan kept in captivity would display the same kind of distress that would occur in humans. Ultimately, I aimed to build empathy for her plight and those like her – and to also have an understanding of why she was there in the first place.
Both in real-life and fiction, even from a cage, there is always hope and always the chance of a happy ending.
‘A powerful middle-grade story about animal activism set in Indonesia…The story is exciting and engaging…Highly recommended for readers aged nine to 12′ Books+Publishing
‘Michelle Kadarusman’s new novel tackles themes of climate change, animal rescue and conservation in a charming and powerful story told from three perspectives…’ The AGE
‘Berani, by Michelle Kadarusman, is an environmental tale for our times…(a) sweet and heart-warming book…’ ArtsHub