A wry, affecting tale set in a small town on the Indonesian coast, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars except that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger. The inequities and betrayals of family life coalesce around and torment this magical being. An explosive act of violence follows, and its mysterious cause is unraveled as events progress toward a heartbreaking revelation.
Most stories about murder focus on the question who did it. This short novel (192 pages) has a different approach. We are told who did it in the opening sentence: On the evening Margio killed Anwar Sadat, Kayai Jahro was blissfully busy with his fishpond; the question the book answers (in its last sentence) is why. Set in Indonesia, the book is filled with the beliefs of the country's rural communities and as a result everyone seems to accept Margio's explanation that the white tigress inside him (inherited from his grandfather) caused him to tear at the throat of the father of his girlfriend. So the question evolves further to why did the tigress explode in violence.
The violence of the murder - the young man literally nearly bites the older man's head off - is decribed graphically and may not be to every reader's taste. But this is contrasted to the ordinariness of Margio, who is not naturally a violent man, and helps the reader share the locals' acceptance that something supernatural took over Margio and made him behave in such an extraordinary way.
But the book is not without psychological motivation. With different chapters telling and retelling incidents in Margio's life and those of his family from the perspective of different characters, we come to understand the boiling anger that the young man identifies as the tigress.
This style of writing might seem at times repetitious and tangential, but it reminds me of the oral storytelling tradition and I am sure that Kurniawan is drawing from the Indonesian tradition in this and in so doing is creating something new and surprising. This is the first Indonesian magic realism that I have read and it would appear that this is a region (and an author) worth watching.
I received a free copy from the publisher in return for a fair review