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Fireflies in Manhattan

Born in Ngawi, East Java, in 1932, Umar Kayam obtained his masters degree from New York University and his doctoral degree from Cornell University. It was there, in New York, where he began to hone his literary skills. The publication of his first collection of short stories, A Thousand Fireflies in Manhattan, in 1972, gained him national fame as a short story writer.

The light and semi-ironic tone of Kayam’s “New York stories,” in which the author viewed an archetypal cast of New York characters through the lens of a naïve Indonesian outsider vanished completely in the next phase of the author’s career when he dealt with the impact of the incarceration and killings of hundreds of thousands of Communists or alleged Communists that took place after the rise of Soeharto’s militaristic regime. Kayam’s highly nuanced portraits of the innocent victims of “1965” again earned him critical acclaim.

Kayam was a regular contributor to the literary column of Kompas, the nation’s largest newspaper, and during the third and final stage of the author’s literary career, it became an almost annual event for him to contribute a story about Lebaran, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim month of fasting, a time when millions of Indonesians who have moved from the communities where they were born attempt against numerous odds to return home.

The stories produced by Kayam during the three stages of his literary career vary greatly in subject matter and tone. What binds them together is that in each and every one, one hears is the voice of the common man.

Translator:  John McGlynn

Publisher: Lontar Foundation

Place of Publication: Jakarta

Publisher URL:

ISBN: 978-979-8083-84-6

Created: 2012


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Last modified: 2013-04-15 15:56:34