Publication Date: December 2013
Potions and Paper Cranes is the English translation by Elisabet Titik Murtisari of Perempuan Kembang Jepun by Lan Fang (PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2006 ISBN 978-979-22-8100-2).
Sulis is a young woman who sells potions in Surabaya’s harbor district. In her basket she carries sweet rice and ginger potion, betel leaf potion, and tamarind leaf refreshing potion. Her tonics remedy everything from obesity to weakening virility. The route is long and the days are hot. She meets Sujono, a coolie with dreams of becoming a freedom fighter. They marry and have a son, Joko, that Sujono believes is from Sulis being with another man. Behind the walls of their squalid tenement they fight their own war, while on the streets World War II comes to an end and the Indonesian Revolution is on the rise.
Matsumi, a poor girl growing up in a fishing village in Japan, always wanted to be a geisha. Her beauty and grace help Matsumi realize her goal and soon she is called to Java by a Japanese general to provide him with pleasure while waging war. She works at a club on Kembang Jepun until Sujono sees her. He is immediately taken by her exotic loveliness. They, too, have a child, and are torn apart by desire and jealousy while Indonesia struggles for its first breaths as a new nation.
Award-winning author Lan Fang tells their stories in separate first person narratives. Critics have praised Lan Fang for her ability to cross the borders of gender, race, and religion. She passed away in 2011, loved by her readers and leaving behind nine novels in addition to many short stories.