I have a tendency to fall into the habit of reading a never-ending string of novels, and on so many levels, picking up Budi Darma's People from Bloomington - a short story collection - was a breath of fresh air. Set in Bloomington, Indiana, these stories give an often chilling voice to characters on the fringes of a college town, people who lack a bond to the glories of the community (or what they imagine those "glories" to be) and are determined to produce those bonds whether they are reciprocated or not. These are stories of longing, stories of loneliness, and often stories of horror. In the end, People from Bloomington is, quite simply, the best book of short stories I've read in a long time, and one that reminded me how great the form can be.— From Nick's Picks
Longlisted for the 2023 PEN Translation Prize
An eerie, alienating, yet comic and profoundly sympathetic short story collection about Americans in America by one of Indonesia’s most prominent writers, now in an English translation for its fortieth anniversary, with a foreword by Intan Paramaditha
A Penguin Classic
In these seven stories of People from Bloomington, our peculiar narrators find themselves in the most peculiar of circumstances and encounter the most peculiar of people. Set in Bloomington, Indiana, where the author lived as a graduate student in the 1970s, this is far from the idyllic portrait of small-town America. Rather, sectioned into apartment units and rented rooms, and gridded by long empty streets and distances traversable only by car, it’s a place where the solitary can all too easily remain solitary; where people can at once be obsessively curious about others, yet fail to form genuine connections with anyone. The characters feel their loneliness acutely and yet deliberately estrange others. Budi Darma paints a realist world portrayed through an absurdist frame, morbid and funny at the same time.
For decades, Budi Darma has influenced and inspired many writers, artists, filmmakers, and readers in Indonesia, yet his stories transcend time and place. With The People from Bloomington, Budi Darma draws us to a universality recognized by readers around the world—the cruelty of life and the difficulties that people face in relating to one another while negotiating their own identities. The stories are not about “strangeness” in the sense of culture, race, and nationality. Instead, they are a statement about how everyone, regardless of nationality or race, is strange, and subject to the same tortures, suspicions, yearnings, and peculiarities of the mind.
About the Author
Budi Darma was a novelist, short-story-writer, and literary critic. Budi Darma received several national literary awards and his international honors include the Southeast Asian Writers Award (or S.E.A. Write Award) and the Mastera Literary Award. He held a PhD in English literature from the University of Bloomington, Indiana, and was a professor at the State University of Surabaya.
Tiffany Tsao (translator and introducer) is a literary translator and writer. Her translations have been awarded the PEN Presents and PEN Translates prizes. She has translated numerous Indonesian works, has written about literature in translation for Electric Literature, and is the author of The Majesties (2020) and the Oddfits series. She holds a PhD in English literature from UC-Berkeley.
Intan Paramaditha (foreword author) is an Indonesian author and a lecturer in media and film studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. She is the author of the short story collection Apple and Knife. Her debut novel Gentayangan (The Wandering), selected as Tempo Best Literary Work for Prose Fiction in 2017, received the PEN Translates Award from English PEN and the PEN/ Heim Translation Fund Grant from PEN America.
“First published in Indonesia 40 years ago, this story collection from celebrated author Darma gets a second life—and an English translation—as a Penguin Classic. Across seven stories set in the gridded streets and rented rooms of Bloomington, Ind., Darma’s characters navigate their morbidly funny lives in this meditation on alienation, failed connection, and the universal strangeness of the human mind.”
“Despite his assertion that that the characters from People from Bloomington could have been drawn from any place in the world, Darma perceived, as an outsider, an emerging attitude towards the recluses on the edges of an ordinary Midwestern city. People from Bloomington feels like a report from the early days of the great American unwinding of civic responsibility and sense of interconnectedness. His characters are unsettling because they are recognizable—if not in our communities, then in ourselves. Darma doesn’t let us look away.”
—David Kobe, The Rumpus