Sepatu DahlanAs I walked home last night, I found this book lying on my father’s reading desk. “Sepatu Dahlan” (or “Dahlan’s Shoes”) – a book I first saw on the bestsellers shelf on my local bookstore. At first, I was just curious about this book and I started to open the pages one by one, wondering what is this book all about. Suddenly, the next three and a half hours of my life was then spent finishing this 370-page book in one sitting. Such was this book’s wonder that I was glued and entranced to it, and now that I’ve finished reading it, I will compose and share my thoughts about this marvelous book.

This book is the first of a planned trilogy of inspirational novels chronicling the life of Dahlan Iskan, the current Menteri BUMN or Minister of GOC (Government Owned Corporations) who was previously the CEO and figurehead of the top-selling Jawa Pos newspaper. This first book chronicles about six years of Dahlan’s teenage years in Takeran, East Java – from the moment he was about to enter Madrasah Tsanawiyah (junior high) to the moment when he had just finished from Madrasah Aliyah (senior high), between 1963 to 1969.

Being a novel (yes, this is NOT a biography or anything like that), while being based on Dahlan’s true life story, it takes some liberties here and there with the occurence of events and the people’s names (some are even said to be fictional), but when I was reading it, I could not make the line of where it was fiction and where it was real. The flowing narrative style used in this book invokes a visual imagination, putting the reader into the perspective of Dahlan Iskan, seeing the world and events of his teenage years through his eyes. On some scenes, Dahlan even writes his feelings on his own diary sometimes, as if talking to the diary (and later, his deceased mother), bringing us even closer to his perspective on things that happened during his life.

Other than the daily life and struggles of young Dahlan, we also get a glimpse on that era’s heating political condition. A period which was marked with the Muso Rebellion, declaration of Soviet Republic of Indonesia in Madiun (1948), People’s Democratic Front (FDR) and of course, the widely known G30S/PKI. This period brought many losses to families and friendships, leaving many children who had to live without their fathers, and wives without husbands. In some parts of the book, we will get to see how these things affected the life of the teenagers in that era, the young Dahlan Iskan and his group of friends.

What is so great about this book is how the multiple arcs in the narrative weave into each other. In one chapter we might be focusing on one subject, while on the next chapter, we move on to the next subject. The narrative is beautifully woven, that you start to become curious on one subject, only to become lost on another subject soon after, and then suddenly you are brought back to the previous subject, as if each and every facet of Dahlan’s life is progressing further and further little by little. The change of subject is never jarring, it never feels jumpy and it feels like you’re just following the life of this young boy day in and day out, absorbing the life lessons he learned from his interaction with his father, his friends, his teacher and all the people around him.

Here are some of the subjects discussed in the book:

•  Dahlan’s dreams: a bicycle to ride and a pair of shoes to wear.
•  Dahlan’s friendships and daily life in the Madrasah Tsanawiyah.
•  Dahlan’s journey to bring his school to win a volley tournament.
•  Dahlan’s life lessons and strong discipline from his father.
•  Dahlan’s struggle with the eventual passing of his mother.
•  Dealing with broken friendships and losses in the political turmoil.
•  Dahlan’s infatuation, love relationship and the challenges he faced.

And how do they relate with the main subject: Dahlan’s shoes? Well, for that one, you have to read this book yourself, and I will simply put it this way: you will be surprised, satisfied and certainly won’t be disappointed by the time you reach the climax and conclusion of this book.

Maybe I am a bit biased here, but reading this book evokes my memory about my own father’s life. Once a penniless kid who had to walk long distances to school, study hard to be the top of the class, take care of a large family etc, he has struggled a lot to be where he is at the moment, with a lot of life lessons and journeys that are very similar to what Dahlan Iskan faced. He had to face moving from his small hometown in Wlingi to Malang to pursue better education, then moving back again to Tulungagung and leaving his education when something bad happened. So this book very much relates to me personally when I read it.

Certainly, the hardships of life can teach a lot to a person, even a teenager, shaping him to be a real man of responsibility and discipline. In some ways, in Dahlan’s story, I can see my father’s story, and the way my father now relates his story to me and my brothers is not unlike the way Dahlan’s father passed on his life lessons to his sons, through stories and allegories. I believe each reader of this book will be able to relate to it with their own, personal ways.

On a special note, the allegory in Chapter 27: “Perseteruan Murid Zen” or “The Strife Between Zen’s Disciples” strikes a real chord in today’s state where diversity is being trampled around in the country. Here’s a quote from the book:

Today, it is so easy to judge others wrong and say we are the righteous one. Everytime a difference arises, it is so easy to call others blasphemous, traitorous or false, when the fact of the matter is that it’s not always true that they are mistaken. Maybe, only our understanding is different. This story is not about ‘who is right’ and ‘who is wrong’, but on how we react to differences. Imagine, if they kept insisting on what they think is right, their friendship would have been destroyed. What is important now, is to learn to understand each other.

This part of the story was really striking deep into my heart and this was a very strong “tribute to diversity” in these times when people seem to so easily attack and hate each other every time there are differences. Just last month, we had Lady Gaga’s concert being cancelled in an attack to the freedom of speech and diversity, and seeing this age-old lesson in this book somehow warmed my heart when I read it.

This book is one that I would recommend everyone to read and I believe that every reader of this book will certainly find something that will relate to them in a personal way. My wish is that someday a producer would approach this book to be translated into a movie, so that many more people might learn and benefit from this story of Dahlan’s life. If you haven’t read it yet, go get it from your local bookstore. It will be very worth your time and money.

To find out more about this book, you can follow @sepatudahlan on Twitter or reach Sepatu Dahlan on Facebook.