‘Margio replied with one deadly bite, gnawing and ripping out a lump of flesh, making a gaping hole in the man’s neck. Delicate veins and tendons hung from the torn flesh, and the blood spurted. The tastleless piece of meat rested in Margio’s mouth until he abruptly spat it on the floor, where it squirmed here and there.’

I don’t even know how I ended up with this book in my hands but I am very glad that it did. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered this through my local library (I think it could have been recommended as similar to Han Kang’s The Vegetarian) and then it suddenly jumped to the top of my reading pile upon arrival. This book had everything that I love in an enjoyable read:

  • A shocking start that grabs the reader’s attention from the start
  • Suspense literally right up to the final sentence of the final page
  • 172 pages of excellent writing, engaging reading and strong characters

It’s books like these that make you wonder why other others bother to break the two hundred page mark when so much can be achieved in such little space!

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This story at first glance seems to have a mystical quality. However, a closer read will show that it deals more with the harsh realities of domestic violence and poverty. From the beginning we know that Margio has killed someone but it takes us a long time to find out why. How the murder is committed is also a huge curiosity as the reader delves into Margio’s world.

Eka Kurniawan spends most of the novel backtracking through Margio’s life of hardship. From childhood, Margio has survived under the tyranny of his father Komar bin Syueb. While Margio eventually outgrows his father’s cruelty, it is his mother Nuraeni who suffers the most. Much of the novel details the miserable conditions of Margio’s family home and this despicable relationship between his mother and father.

But this storyline only serves to be a distraction because the reader knows exactly how events will end. This makes Komar bin Syueb selection as the novel’s chief villain all the more interesting. Everything does not fall into place until the final paragraph of the final page is read. This is what made Man Tiger an exceptional read and a must read read for the literary tourist.

‘The tiger was white as a swan, vicious as an ajak. Mameh saw it once, briefly, emerging from Margio’s body like a shadow. She would never see it again. There was one sign that the tigress was still inside Margio, and Mameh didn’t know if anyone else had spotted what it was. In the dark, the yellow glint of a cat’s eye shone in Margio’s pupils. At first, Mameh was scared to look into those eyes, terrified that the tiger might actually reemerge. But with time and frequent exposure to Margio, she grew used to seeing those eyes eyes light up in the dark, and she stopped worrying. The tigress wasn’t her enemy and wouldn’t hurt her; maybe it was there to protect them all.’

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Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Yes. A short yet powerful read that may be easy to fly through though hard to digest at times. This read is a fine example of the writing talent on the other side of the world.

Afterthoughts

  • Eka Kurniawan’s other book Beauty Is A Wound is now firmly on my radar.
  • For me, this is very different and an all together tidier read than The Vegetarian