Kitchen Curse

Verso. Oct. 2019. 144p. ISBN 9781786637154. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781786637178. F
Kurniawan, the first Man Booker International Prize–nominated Indonesian writer (he was long-listed in 2016 for Man Tiger), here makes his collection-in-English debut, with the majority of the 16 stories translated by Tucker, his PEN/Heim Translation Fund–awarded Beauty Is a Wound translator; three of the 16 stories are anglophoned by Tiffany Tsao, Maggie Tiojakin, and Benedict Anderson. The strongest story here is the last one, the titular “Kitchen Curse,” a darkly hysterical cautionary tale about an abused wife who goes “to the city archive hoping to find some new recipe ideas” (italics in original) and instead discovers an inspiring record of culinary mass murder by “everyday spices.” Other successes include “Don’t Piss Here!” featuring a frustrated shop owner who discovers sexual satisfaction after waiting overnight to catch the miscreant who urinates regularly on her parking lot wall; “Caronang,” about a bi-pedal doglike creature stolen from its natural habitat who wreaks havoc on his kidnapper’s family; and “The Otter Amulet,” in which the reunion in adulthood between a bullied boy and his designated protector has disturbing results. Sex, violence, and betrayal loom large throughout, as in Kurniawan’s award-winning previous novels; his shorter attempts, however, prove uneven at best, too often feeling abrupt and unfinished.
VERDICT Despite possible disappointment, Kurniawan groupies won’t be deterred; for newbies, go to the novels for greater fictional satisfaction.
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