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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Dewi Lestari

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To purchase Supernova

Title: Supernova
Author: Dewi Lestari
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: Indonesian
Availability: Supernova - US
Supernova - UK
Supernova - Canada
Supernova - India
  • The Knight, the Princess and the Falling Star
  • Indonesian title: Supernova
  • First in a series
  • Translated by Harry Aveling
  • Made into a film in 2014, directed by Rizal Mantovani

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Our Assessment:

B : ambitious, sprightly lite lit.

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Supernova: The Knight, the Princess and the Falling Star is the first in the (otherwise still untranslated) 'Supernova'-series; indeed, the novel's closing words and promise are: "THE BEGINNING". It stands alone well enough, however -- a reasonably self-contained story (or group of stories), even as it suggests a greater whole. But then that's (part of) the idea: the entire novel is built on the premise that everything is part of a greater, interconnected and hard-to-fathom whole.
       A Prologue opens with the warning: "What you are about to read will not always be easy to understand", and the novel comes with a bibliography, but Lestari is disarming from the first in making her high-concept fiction accessible:

Supernova includes many things -- history, myth, science, your supermarket receipts -- to show you the nodes in the silver thread of the network of life.
       The novel begins with Dhimas and Ruben, two Indonesian men who had met while studying in America. Engaging in typical grandiose student-talk, Ruben babbled back then already:
I know how to reconcile materialism and idealism ! Materialism and non-materialism; and science and religion. I can see it all.
       And he makes a promise:
That in ten years time, I will create something that will bridge the gap between the various branches of learning.
       Now it's ten years later and the two soulmates -- a homosexual couple, devoted to each other but still preferring to live separately -- get down to writing their masterpiece. Not a dry academic article explaining their philosophy, but rather fiction:
We need to write something a lot of people will want to read. A poetic romance with a bit of science thrown in.
       So, yes, Supernova is also about the writing of Supernova, as in the first chapters the story alternates between Dhimas and Ruben's efforts and the actual story that gets written. As the novel progresses they comment on the story as it develops, even (or especially) as it escapes their control and surprises even them -- "I have no idea how the story will turn out, even though we're supposed to be writing it", Dhimas admits. Eventually, they too become an unexpected part of the story, when it really gets out of hand (or at least out of their hands).
       In one of the storylines one of the characters came across a comic book as a child -- to devastating effect:
     It was hard to comfort him. He wanted to know if there was any story sadder than that about the Knight, the Princess and the Falling Star. There wasn't. Or at least his grandmother didn't know any. Nor did his grandfather.
       In Supernova there are figures like the Knight, the Princess, and the Falling Star, too. The Princess is Rana; she is married, to Arwin, but marriage hasn't entirely lived up to her expectations. When she meets successful businessman Ferré she thinks she's found her Knight, and is torn between what ending her marriage would mean and embracing what seems to be true love. The Falling Star is professional but distant Diva, "our nation's supermodel, Crème de la crème" -- and a highest-end call-girl, too.
       Finally, there's also the mysterious 'Supernova'. As one of Rana's friend's explains:
I'm not sure how I would classify this person. You'd better find out for yourself. But he -- or she -- just might be able to help you.
       Supernova is an online presence -- "a cyber avatar" -- who basically offers advice in response to questions. Or, as Ruben explains to his co-writer:
Supernova is a form of turbulence people can access whenever and wherever they want; one capable of amplifying their understanding in a non-hierarchical manner, beyond all institutions and dogmas; completely and totally non-linear.
       Rana is one of those who turns to Supernova for advice -- and, typically, Supernova doesn't answer several of her e-mails, before finally replying:
I'm here. I've read all your letters. I've answered them by making you ask more questions. I'm waiting for you to ask the only question that matters.
       The mix of New Age babble and scientific claims -- Schrödinger's cat and the concept of memes are among the well-known real-world examples twisted to Lestari's purposes -- can make some of this seem facile, but there's a lot of ingenuity to Lestari's fiction too. Her central characters move and progress in unexpected ways, and the stories don't resolve themselves -- to the extent that they do at all -- in the simplest or most obvious patterns. Yes, almost all of this is very light reading, but it's not entirely shallow; if the unifying philosophy isn't convincing, at least the efforts at turning it into fiction are quite entertaining.
       Mixing the action between her different characters and story-lines -- including that of the nominal authors of the story itself -- in short chapters, Supernova is fast- and well-paced. The overlap of stories is handled well -- the novel weaves wildly back and forth across them, but it doesn't become confusing -- and while the writing can be simplistic, Lestari shows an entertainer's touch in holding interest. She also adds some nice twists to the tale along the way, surprising readers in how there's more to her tale(s) than originally imagined.
       Supernova never gets quite as serious as it seems to want to be, the philosophizing remaining at a pretty basic level, but that's probably for the best: over-explanation would be deadly for this kind of book. As is, the veneer of deeper thought isn't entirely convincing, but isn't painfully Coelho-awkward either -- the Deepak Chopra-influence balanced by that of Douglas R. Hofstadter, Timothy Ferris, and Edward O. Wilson (to name just some of those whose books feature in the suggested 'Further Reading'-bibliography).
       Solid lite reading, Supernova is fairly basic fiction, but there's decent thought and craft in it, and it is a quite enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 March 2015

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Supernova: Reviews: Supernova - the film: Dewi Lestari: Other books by Dee Lestari under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Indonesian author Dewi 'Dee' Lestari was born in 1976.

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