Author: Mirandi Riwoe
First Published: 24 August 2017
Rating: 4.5 stars
“In vain, her eyes search beyond the other houses and palm trees for a glimpse of the sea. She will run away. She will flee to the water’s edge and the Ocean Queen will tell her what to do”
Sparked by the description of a ‘Malay trollope’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, The Four Dutchmen, Mirandi Riwoe’s novella, The Fish Girl, tells of an Indonesian girl whose life is changed irrevocably when she moves from a small fishing village to work in the house of a Dutch merchant. There she finds both hardship and tenderness as her traditional past and colonial present collide.
This story is beautifully written and leaves you with a massive punch to the chest, which is a surprise given the book is under a 100 pages. But I felt a real connection with Mina. I empathised with her. Here is a girl who’s pretty much sold into working for a Dutch merchant so her parents may be able to afford more food and tobacco for themselves.
While working at the merchant’s house, Mina is isolated with only the kitchen boy, Pepen, for a friend as the other maids are envious of her. She’s naïve struggling to understand the attention of Dutchman, Captin Brees and Ajat, the Chief son. My heart goes out to the poor girl who really is unable to take any control of her situation.
Riwoe portrays the Malay culture with such vivid imagery. I could feel that suffocating tropical heat, hear the lap of the waves and tastes the salt on the air. There’s also this mention of Malay mythology and the Ocean Queen, which I adored. I don’t know much about Indonesian culture or it’s history but after reading this I would love to learn more.
I wish I’d have read The Four Dutchmen on first just so I could’ve understood the extra depth of the narrative but in saying that The Fish Girl is still a strong piece on its own.
If you’re looking for a little book that packs an emotional punch and doesn’t skimp on description or character development, I think this is the one for you.