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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Orphan

"At school he suddenly became conscious of what he was: an orphan. He had never been aware of this status, for many of his classmates seemed to be orphans too. Every so often someone would drop out of school to work in the ricefields or help with the nets, and Adam would learn that their father had drowned at sea or their mother had died in childbirth; now they were an orphan. On this island it seemed entirely normal to have lost at least one parent. But one day they had a new teacher, a young Sasak who had studied at the Universiteit van Indonesie. He taught them the difference between orphans who had lost one parent and those who had lost both. There was a word that distinguished the two: piatu. It was important to be precise with our Indonesian language, the teacher said; we have to use it carefully and with pride. This revelation troubled Adam greatly. Had he been orphaned once or twice? Was he a true orphan, more pitiful than the others? He went home and consulted Karl's dictionary, kept on the highest, dustiest shelves like some forgotten, forbidden relic. Perhaps he would be less of an orphan in Dutch. He would discover that in every language but his own he would be an ordinary, unremarkable orphan. He remembered the Dutch for 'orphan' and found it quickly, but the definition was full of words he did not understand and left him more frustrated than ever."
(Tash Aw in 'Map of the Invisible World,' p. 73 Harper)

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