Anggraeni, Dewi 1945–

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Anggraeni, Dewi 1945–


Born April 16, 1945, in Jakarta, Indonesia; Australian citizen; daughter of Patrick Sutanta (a company director) and Sen Tjia (a homemaker); married Ian Fraser (an environmental manager), 1972; children: Eric, Trisnasari. Ethnicity: "Indonesian." Education: La Trobe University, diploma of education, 1978; University of Indonesia, M.A., 1969. Politics: "Centre." Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: "Anything to do with human development."


Home and office—Eltham, Victoria, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]


TEMPO (Australian news magazine), correspondent from Jakarta Indonesia, 1986—; Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Indonesia, permanent contributor, 1994—. Language and cultural consultant.


Australian-Indonesian Association, PEN Melbourne.


The Root of All Evil (novel), Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 1987.

Parallel Forces (novel), Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 1988.

Stories of Indian Pacific (trilogy of novellas), Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 1993.

Journeys through Shadows (novel), Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 1998.

Neighbourhood Tales: A Bilingual Collection, Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 2001.

Snake (novel), Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 2002.

Who Did This to Our Bali?, Indra (Briar Hill, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

Dreamseekers: Indonesian Women as Domestic Workers in Asia, Equinox Publishing (Jakarta, Indonesia), 2006.

Contributor of poems, short stories, novellas, and essays to anthologies, including Up from Below, edited by Irene Coates, Nancy J. Corgett, and Barbara Petrie, Women's Redress (Australia), 1987; Beyond the Echo, edited by Sneja Gunew and Jan Mayuddin, University of Queensland Press, 1988; Striking Chords, edited by Sneja Gunew and Kateryna O. Longley, Allen & Unwin, 1992; The Last Days of Suharto, edited by Edward Aspinall, Herb Feith, and Gerry van Klinken, Monash Asia Institute (Australia), 1999; and Weaving a Double Cloth: Stories of Women Migrants from the Asia-Pacific Region, Pandanus Books (Canberra, Australia), 2006. Contributor to periodicals, including O-Z-wide Tales, Migrant-7, Pelangi, Eureka Street, International Women's Day, Griffith Review, Westerley, Jakarta Post, Pesona, Global Asia, Sydney Papers, and Femina.


A longtime resident of Australia, Dewi Anggraeni is a well-known journalist in her native Indonesia. Drawing on her lifetime of experience in crossing cultural boundaries, she has written novels, short stories, and essays that explore the problems of understanding and accommodation that individuals encounter as they attempt to bridge cultures.

In Stories of Indian Pacific Anggraeni brings together three novellas set in New Caledonia, Adelaide/Bandung, and Bali. Assessing the book in the Australian Book Review, John Donnelly admitted, "On first reading the stories seemed flat. Things are named (but not described) in a very general way that doesn't reveal characters or cultures…. But this may well be what Anggraeni intends—to downplay the unusual and exotic in order to home in on the similarities of emotions." Of the three novellas, Donnelly found the strongest one to be "Uncertain Step," the story of an Indonesian woman coping with her move to Australia. "Here the lack of detailed description works with the story," according to Donnelly, "demonstrating the incomprehension of the new migrant and the unfamiliar visitors to Indonesia."

Anggraeni makes another foray into cross-cultural territory in her novel Journeys through Shadows, the story of a poor Javanese woman, Maryati, who tries to make a new life for herself in Australia, leaving behind a son in Java. She marries an Australian and tries to fit into the community of Indonesian expatriates, but she begins to see visions of a spirit-child and suffers a breakdown. Eventually, Maryati divorces her husband and returns to Java, where she is reunited with her son. World Literature in Review contributor Paul Sharrad commented, "In English, the dialogue has to range from young Indonesians speaking colloquial Australian English, to Maryati speaking Indonesian or Javanese among friends and family plus ‘immigrant English’ to her new husband, to [her friend] Eni speaking a better class of both English and Bahasa/Javanese. The result- ing text doesn't quite manage to convey these shifts or capture the exact register." However, Sharrad noted, "The story lines are competently interwoven."

Neighbourhood Tales: A Bilingual Collection offers Anggraeni an opportunity to present her fiction as two sides of the same coin. It is truly bilingual, for there is no translation involved. She literally wrote each story twice, sometimes beginning with the English version, sometimes not. This enabled her to address her stories to the cultural sensibilities of the reader, rather than to render an Indonesian concept in English words or graft Western concepts onto an Asian worldview. The technique presumably succeeds best when the reader, like the author, is bilingual, but critics suggest that this approach can open windows of understanding from both directions. The stories address a recurring theme in Anggraeni's fiction: the challenge of living in the spaces where Asian spirituality and Western materialism connect (or fail to). Sometimes the meeting is amusing, as in the story "Halal," wherein a well-intentioned Australian couple agonize over a proper dinner menu for Indonesian guests who are mistakenly presumed to be Muslims. Other stories take a darker turn, and several rest somewhere between. In his Far Eastern Economic Review assessment, Michael Vatikiotis called the collection "endearing." In the Melbourne Age, Fiona Capp noted Anggraeni's "appealing lightness of touch." Damien Kingsbury wrote in the Jakarta Post that Neighbourhood Tales moves "easily and often gracefully" from one world to the other.

The novel Snake was well received by the Indonesian press. In the Jakarta Post, Oei Eng Goan called it "a new milestone in the development of modern Indonesian literature and a significant contribution to Southeast Asia's literary treasures." It is the story of Serena Anderson, a thoroughly modern Australian woman of mixed heritage, who finds herself alone in Malaysia with a mysterious snake brooch that seems to tug at the spiritual legacy of her Chinese Indonesian ancestors. Frightening dreams lead Serena to the revelation that the snake carries with it a curse that can be traced back to her own grandmother, and she feels increasingly compelled, despite her down-to-earth Western upbringing, to uncover the history of the tragedies associated with the jewel. At the same time, she must fight the inclination to believe in the supernatural power of the brooch to influence her own life. "Dewi's portrayal of her characters is solid and lively," wrote Eng Goan. "Her style and ability to blend reality and the supernatural world reminds literary aficionados of Daphne du Maurier." Peter Gordon noted in the Asian Review of Books that "Snake is one of very few novels which deals with Southeast Asian and ethnically-mixed families in the region." He commented favorably on Anggraeni's presentation of her theme: the conflicts of Asian and Western cultures, traditional and modern values, and the juxtaposition of mystical and rational elements in the daily lives of multicultural communities.

Anggraeni once told CA: "Like many writers, I write because I have a story to tell. I began writing when I was fairly young. Looking back now, I can see that being the youngest in the family of five children, nobody seemed to take me seriously. Whatever I said was received with a tolerating smile. So I turned to an imaginary audience.

"I like learning by reading, listening and observing. Basically I have been a passive learner. When I was younger, I did not like participating in lively discussions, because I liked to think about an issue before I felt that I understood what was happening, what was driving it, and what it might imply. That may also be the reason I turned to writing.

"The society in which I was brought up, in Jakarta, Indonesia, was very classed and diverse. I noticed that while these groups interacted, they observed a set of invisible boundaries. Sometimes between an employer and an employee there were such powerful boundaries that neither knew about the other's social code, but they inferred. The inference was often incorrect. Inadvertently I would overstep these boundaries by asking my parents' domestic servants, or my father's employees, about their families and their immediate societies. They would tell me because they regarded me as fairly innocuous. The fascinating stories were then stored in my consciousness. Later on when tension occurred, either between employees, or between employer and employee, I felt I understood the cause better than my parents thought I did.

"My inner drive to understand social phenomena through individual players continued while I grew up. I became interested in literature and politics. When I write, the two aspects merge. My personal learning was greatly augmented by my moving to Australia, where I encountered a very different society. The boundaries, with which I was familiar in Indonesia, were much more subtle, yet still existed. And they were more fluid and movable. Perceptions were based on completely different premises, but driven by similar basic human needs and emotions.

"Over the years, many writers have influenced my own writing, Francois Mauriac, Simone de Beauvoir, Somerset Maugham, to name a few. And of my contemporaries, I admire among others Amy Tan (Chinese-American), Yasmine Gooneratne (Sri Lankan-Australian), Lolo Houbein (Dutch-Australian), and Thomas Shapcott (Anglo-Australian). I admire them for their perceptiveness, their fine prose, and their magnificent skill in weaving a story which grabs the reader from the beginning to the end.

"I do not have a specific writing process. It is more of a holistic process. I work in journalism, where hard facts slap you in the face. I have to process the information straight away, which means using the left side of my brain. When I have time to ponder what happened, the right side of my brain begins to take over, and a fuller story opens up. And I feel the urge to tell it the way I see it then. And because I usually write the story in between my journalistic assignments, it takes me a long time to complete a novel.

"My writings tend to be cross-cultural or inter-cultural in nature, probably because that is the way I live."

Anggraeni later added that her writing "was a progression from the desire to tell people what I observed, and what I thought had happened behind the scenes, and what was happening elsewhere relating to what we were seeing."

When asked again about her influences, she added: "People around me, especially those close to me, such as my family, my friends and my colleagues and their interaction with me and with each other, often arouse emotional reactions in me. They could be admiration, incredulity, empathy, sympathy, anger, disgust, pity, fascination, or anything strong. I then feel a story developing in my head.

"First and foremost, I hope my books entertain the readers, that the readers find them interesting. Then, if they can make a difference in the readers' understanding of certain aspects of life related to the stories, I'll certainly be very thrilled."



Age (Melbourne, Australia), July 14, 2001, Fiona Capp, review of Neighbourhood Tales: A Bilingual Collection.

Asia Review of Books, February 4, 2003, Peter Gordon review of Snake.

Australian Book Review, June, 1993, John Donnelly, "Between Cultures," p. 14.

Canberra Times, October 27, 2001, Francesca Beddie, review of Neighbourhood Tales, p. 16.

Far Eastern Economic Review, November 15, 2001, Michael Vatikiotis, review of Neighbourhood Tales, p. 67.

Jakarta Post, August 5, 2001, Damien Kingsbury, review of Neighbourhood Tales; March 9, 2003, Oei Eng Goan, review of Snake; February 22, 2004, review of Who Did This to Our Bali?; July 22, 2007, Tony Smith, review of Dreamseekers: Indonesian Women as Domestic Workers in Asia.

Sydney Morning Herald, March 13, 2004, Bruce Elder, review of Who Did This to Our Bali?

World Literature in Review, fall, 1999, Paul Sharrad, review of Journeys through Shadows; summer-autumn, 2002, Bonnie R. Crown, review of Neighbourhood Tales, p. 90.


Indra Publishing Web site, (October 12, 2000), profile of author.