The Adventures of Na Willa

by | Apr 29, 2022 | Book Review, Fiction, Translation

The Adventures of Na Willa (cover)

Book Details

The Adventures of Na Willa
Reda Gaudiamo, illus. Cecillia Hadayat, transl. Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul & Kate Wakeling, Birmingham: The Emma Press, pb, 978 1 9101 3959 2, 2019, £8.99, 144pp.
Fiction, 6+ years

Na Willa may be too young to go to school, but she is a lively little girl living in the outskirts of Surabaya in Indonesia.

Her life is full of everyday incidents; playing football with her friend, Dul, going to the market with her mother, and enjoying fried milkfish. Through her eyes, we see the community as it really is – all based on the author’s memories growing up in the ’60s.

Na Willa may be too young to go to school, but her observation of her community and the people around her is acute and questioning. She lives with her mother, Mak, while her father Pak is away earning a living as a sailor. We learn about her home, a house in the middle of the alley; we meet her friend Farida who lives in the house opposite and especially her best friend, Dul. With the young child’s bright, direct, uninhibited voice, she tells us about her surroundings. There are no long descriptions, but observations that paint a picture for us: her home, bigger than their previous house, so she has a “playroom”, but there is chicken wire over the window. There are the people – her friends, Farida, Dul, Bud, Farida’s father always angry among others – who step off the page. There are the questions she asks: how does a voice get into the radio? We experience her excitement and anxieties. We are being introduced to a vivid, bustling world that may be different in many ways from our own but is completely recognisable as we see it through the eyes of a child.

Na Willa is a great character to introduce to children here, and the author captures her voice perfectly, remembering her own Indonesian childhood in the ’60s. Then there are the pen and ink vignettes by Cecillia Hayadat, sprinkled throughout the pages and bringing to visual life the personality, vivacity and sincerity of our heroine.

This is a book to welcome thanks to the lively translation by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul and Kate Wakeling, who bring us the Indonesian background in contemporary accessible prose.


Review by FMH