Dee Lestari’s “Kesatria, Putri, & Bintang Jatuh” (Supernova #1)

Kesatria, Putri, & Bintang Jatuh (Indonesian for “The Knight, the Princess, and the Falling Star”) is the first in the Supernova series written by acclaimed Indonesian author, Dee Lestari. It recounts the stories of four groups of people:

  1. Dimas and Reuben → a young gay couple living in the suburbs of Jakarta. Dimas is a graduate English Literature from George Washington University while Reuben is an Indo-Jewish physics genius who dreams of bridging all links between science and philosophy. Together, they fulfil their promise, ten years since their graduation day has passed, of creating a ‘masterpiece’—one that became the foundation for the intertwining tale of “The Knight, the Princess, and the Falling Star”.
  2. Ferre and Rana → The representative for the characters the Knight and the Princess in Dimas and Reuben’s fictional work. Ferre is a successful managing director of a multinational company. Rana is a journalist who also happens to be married. These two start a love affair that constantly teeters on blissfulness and utter fear and despair at treading on eggshells around their family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
  3. Diva → The personification of the entity of the Falling Star in Dimas and Reuben’s work. She leads a double life—successful model by day, high-end prostitute by night. Though she is dubbed ‘the bitter one’ in her workplace due to her cold demeanour, she has also proven herself to be highly intelligent—often making remarks about the current state of the world that most people wouldn’t be aware of—and acutely aware of her surroundings. Her clients and few friends often liken her to a goddess.
  4. Supernova → An online persona reminiscent of advice columns in newspapers. She is both cryptic and diplomatic; she guides her readers into making the right decision themselves instead of giving them a direct solution to their problems.

Before I start the actual review, I came across a tweet one day that perfectly encapsulates my feelings about this book:

My thoughts were uncontainable. You do not want to see the notes I have for this review, trust me.

This book is unlike any other I’ve read before. What got me interested in it the first time around was the blurb—it mentions Dimas and Reuben’s names first and what they intend to do, followed by the words ‘parallel to that’ (I translated this, obviously). The word ‘parallel’ stuck out to me and my mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that this book had something to do with parallel universes—one that is a fuse of fantasy and modern society—which is one of my all-time favourite themes in any kind of fictional media. However, as I read on, I realised that while parallelism is still one of the main focuses, it wasn’t the kind I was expecting. I brought this on myself, in all fairness, because in my excitement I’ve completely misinterpreted the blurb and missed a significant part of the sentence: “—parallel to that, in real life . . .” Essentially, the parallelism happening within this book is the story Dimas and Reuben are working on and the love affair between Ferre and Rana. I enjoyed it, nonetheless; I thought it was a creative spin on the whole parallel universe theme. It’s also refreshing, in a way, to have reality mirroring a supposedly fictional world instead of it being the other way around.

I will say that this book’s both strongest and weakest points is how it blends philosophy with science. Though it is executed brilliantly, to fully take in the intellectual portion of this book it will take several rereads as it tends to get heavy-handed at times. Hell, Lestari didn’t hesitate to hit her readers with scientific theories and philosophical rhetorics four pages in. She even includes a diagram at one point!

I reread that page and I’m still not sure if that diagram had anything to do with the story, other than to point out that Reuben finds the shape that it makes is beautiful. Sad to say that I don’t see it.

Dimas and Reuben have a tendency to spout on about the many branches of these two topics (and the ones that intersect between the two) for pages on end, so this is definitely a potential turn-off for readers. As much I enjoy theorising over numerous philosophical and psychological topics like existentialism, I thought Lestari overdid it, especially towards the end when things took a sharp turn to Suspenseville. A lot of these musings sound like she’s explaining why certain characters do what they do, as though she’s taking her reader’s hand and leading them through the dense forest of a plot. She doesn’t do so condescendingly, but it disrupts the flow of the story so much that halfway through the book I started skimming.

I will, however, applaud Lestari for making her readers become more critical of their ethics and morals, be it about their own philosophical beliefs to questions that no one thinks of asking themselves because the answer is an obvious one—like adultery, for example. Diva is my favourite out of everyone in the cast because she tackles these problematic topics every time she shows up on page. She makes you think about how society have conditioned its people to act a certain way, that they’ve made us complacent to their bidding. She opposes wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs, informing them of the toxicity of capitalism and the damages it brings about. These are only a few of her many confrontations. Her sharp wit and silver tongue plays a huge role in how she brings herself in public and I find myself constantly rooting for her every time she opens her mouth. Like with every character, Lestari doesn’t forget to show Diva’s vulnerable side but does so in a way that leaves a bittersweet pang in your heart. I feel that Lestari wrote Diva in order to dismantle sex worker myths and misconceptions that have pervaded our culture, that they are not all who they seem to be, and to show that she has her reasons for doing what she does and why she behaves the way she does.

Naturally, every character in this book is flawed—they have their own set of morals, which they may or may not adhere to as the plot thickens, and there are certain points in this book where their respective morals lead them astray. Everyone has been in the wrong during the course of this book, yet Lestari gives her readers multiple perspectives (both with the cast of narrators and character introspection) to help us decide whose side to be on—or at the very least, sympathise with them. This specific subject is particularly important, for me, when it comes to exploring Ferre and Rana’s predicament. They know full well the consequences of being caught in an affair, yet for the sake of love they carry on.

Part of me thinks that I should commend Ferre and Rana for their pluckiness in braving the storm that is their tumultuous relationship—and in several instances, I found myself almost doing so—but I don’t. As suspenseful and dramatic Lestari makes it out to be (and she does), their relationship is something I wouldn’t personally support. On one hand, it does give me a bit of insight as to why people cheat, even if they’re in a supposedly committed relationship. Temptation, lust, a desire to love and be loved back, what have you. And I understand why Rana can’t just file for a divorce, what with her family and her husband, Arwin’s, social status at stake. But on the other hand, it’s still wrong no matter how you look at it. So often does Ferre expresses his jealousy and bitterness over the fact that he and Rana can’t have a ‘normal’ relationship because they have to constantly go behind everyone’s backs that I found myself constantly thinking, ‘Well, I’m sorry you feel this way. But your relationship with Rana is nothing more than an affair. And Rana, I don’t care if you’re unhappily married and feel nothing but contempt for your husband. You are legally still in a committed relationship with him. This is wrong. You two ought to know better.’ If anything, it just made me feel sorry for Arwin because not only is he cares very much for his wife, but also realises that he has never won her heart from the beginning.

To conclude, Kesatria, Putri, & Bintang Jatuh is a highly-introspective book that examines human behaviour with bouts and bouts of philosophy. It treads the line between fiction and reality—almost like meta-fiction but not quite there—and explores the boundaries that come with it. I’d recommend this to anyone who loves a good reflective piece of fiction mixed in with a heavy dose of tension—be it the sexual kind or the mysterious kind—in their stories. That is if they know how to read Indonesian. I don’t think there’s a translated version out there yet, but maybe one day it’ll happen.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then I want to thank you for reading. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment and if you have any recommendations for any books of this sort, then feel free to share it below!

Until next time,
Dev.

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