2023 - Winner
Indonesian author Budi Darma’s short story collection People from Bloomington casts a startlingly novel light on a landscape we had thought familiar: United States of the 1970s. On this canvas are projected stories melding the painfully ordinary with the decidedly odd, in which exoticism is trumped by the appeal to the common strangeness of human experience. Sitting in often absurdist territory between Sherwood Anderson and John Cheever, the arrival of this work in English enriches world literature.
With this book, translator Tiffany Tsao once again brings an important voice of modern Indonesian writing to a global audience, at a moment when Budi Darma’s themes of creating connection and finding identity could not be more apt. Deploying the same relaxed but elegant tone that mark her own fiction, Tsao’s choices are unfailingly deft, endowing Budi Darma’s slightly askew Bloomingtonians with a credible and compelling Middle American linguistic environment.
The text’s alienated and struggling characters live in sordid neighbourhoods where joy and happiness occasionally shine through. A yearning for local community and relationships pervades these stories, the titular claim to specific geography cloaking universal questions about connection to, and between, people and place. Tiffany Tsao’s gem of a translation, completed after the author’s death in 2021, represents a fitting homage to the author, and will allow many more readers to enjoy his acute perceptivity and often ungentle humour.