|place of birth
||Literature & Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs,
about this author
Under a bright sunny sky, the three-day Byron Bay Writers’ Festival welcomed Andrea Hirata who charmed audiences with his modesty and gracious behavior during two sessions.
Andrea also attended a special event where he and Tim Baker, an Australian surfing writer, spoke to a gathering of several hundred school children. During one session, Andrea was on a panel with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from Washington, DC, Katharine Boo, which he said was a great honor.
The August event for the school children was very meaningful to Andrea, the barefooted boy from
Belitung, as he made mental comparisons with the educational opportunities of these children, compared to what he experienced.
And now his own life story is about to become even more amazing, as his book Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops) is being published around the world in no less than twenty-four countries and in 12 languages. It has caught the eye of some of the world’s top publishing houses, such as Penguin, Random House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (New York, US) and many others. Translations are already on sale in Brazil, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia.
All this has come about because of the feeling of appreciation that the young Andrea felt for his teacher, Muslimah. He promised her that he’d write a book for her someday. This was because for him and his school friends, a book was the most valuable thing they could think of.
Andrea told a story that illustrated this fact. When royalties flowed in for him he decided to give his community a library. He spent a lot of money on books. He left the village headman in charge of administering the library. However, when he came back several months later, all the books were gone. People loved the books, but they had no concept of how a lending library functioned.
“Some of them could not even read, but they just loved to have a book, an object of great value and importance, in their homes. We will restock the library with books and this time it will be run by our own administration,” he laughed.
Andrea told this story as we sat in the coffee shop adjoining a Gold Coast City Library, one of 12 scattered around the city. One of the librarians, Jenneth Duque, showed him around the library, including the new state-of-the-art book sorting machine, for processing returns located in the staff area. As he saw the books being returned through pigeonholes by the borrowers and the computerized conveyor belt sorting them into the correct bin for reshelving, the sight made him laugh and prompted the telling of that story.
Andrea wrote the book for his teacher while in the employ of Telkom, but the completed manuscript was taken from his room, which was located in a Bandung student accommodation community. Whoever took the manuscript knew enough to send it to a publisher and that’s how Andrea, an unhappy postal service worker who had studied economics in Europe and the UK, became the accidental author of the biggest selling novel in Indonesia’s history.
He has since written seven more books.
Fast forward to 2011 and Andrea was in Iowa, the US, where he did a reading of his short story, The Dry Season. He was approached by an independent literary agent, Kathleen Anderson. They talked, but for six months there was no news until an email arrived telling him that one of the best publishers in the US, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, had accepted his book.
Then every week, more publishers said “yes” and now he has 24 contracts from the world’s leading publishers.
Andrea worked with Angie Kilbane of the US on the English translations of Laskar Pelangi and its sequel Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer). Translators from several other countries have visited his home village in Belitung to do research.
“For a long time I wondered what was the key to the enormous success of my book,” Andrea said.
“I think there’s no single right answer. Perhaps people are fed up with writing focused on urban issues or esca