Author Playlists

Dias Novita Wuri’s playlist for her novella “Birth Canal”

“If I can be very honest with you, I never pay that much attention to the lyrics of songs, which is kind of ironic considering that I am a woman of letters. I am drawn to atmosphere first and foremost. It is also my approach in writing—rather than plot, I focus on emotions and feelings, the atmosphere of things. I rely on music to help me build this atmosphere.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Dias Novita Wuri’s novella Birth Canal shares a magnificently beguiling collection of interconnected stories.

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote of the book:

“Indonesian author Dias Novita Wuri is a rising literary star. Her novella Birth Canal writhes with talent compressed into a forceful and beguiling suite of interconnected stories … Wuri’s gift for metaphor is matched by a supple and sidewinding narrative construction that follows women across time and place”

In her own words, here is Dias Novita Wuri’s Book Notes music playlist for her novella Birth Canal:

If I can be very honest with you, I never pay that much attention to the lyrics of songs, which is kind of ironic considering that I am a woman of letters. I am drawn to atmosphere first and foremost. It is also my approach in writing—rather than plot, I focus on emotions and feelings, the atmosphere of things. I rely on music to help me build this atmosphere.

“Birth Canal” travels through time and places, from Indonesia to the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States; both in the past and in the present. It takes you to the World War II, then to the American occupation of Japan after the war, and in the end—the present, which is unavoidably affected by the generational trauma as the residue of war. And in the center of all of this is women, being hurt by men.

There are only four big chapters in the novel, each bears the name of a woman, which in turn also bears their story of misery. I am tempted to tell you that I listened to “Lili Marleen” by Marlene Dietrich while writing the chapters on World War II, for example, but that would be a lie. I am also honestly (I’m again being very honest here) rather ashamed that my “Birth Canal” writing playlist contains the voice of only two women while the rest is men, but often for me, the music comes first and then the story. Furthermore, I am probably one of the biggest fans of an all-male Danish band called Mew, whose songs are even mentioned in my first chapter. Basically, Mew’s alternative indie rock music has influenced almost everything that I’ve ever written.

Other than Mew, I am mostly attracted to music that already serves as an OST of the movies that I like. Then I would listen to them and separate the movies from the music, only taking the essence of feelings that they evoke in me. From there, I create my own cinematic world in a written form (hey, I hope this is not cheating!).

For “Birth Canal”, here is my soundtrack, divided by the four chapters in the book.

Chapter I: Nastiti

“Water Slides” by Mew

You first meet Nastiti, our first of the four women. In the opening chapter, you follow her (male) best friend who is secretly in love with her. She disappears and he is looking for her, desperately, riding through the bustles of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. Then you and this guy finally manage to find her alone, performing an abortion by herself in a rented room.

I saw a strong image of water in this particular chapter, that I imagined morph into both tears and blood, as well as actual water. I think that was born from listening “Water Slides”, which is taken from Mew’s 2015 album titled, “+ -”. The song’s video clip enchanted me: the image of a dark, dark sea; the softly-moving ocean waves. The whole combination became a scene where, like the lyric of the song (“lying on the bathroom floor”), you see our narrator and Nastiti enduring their most painful experience together on a bathroom floor.

“Aviary” by Mint Julep

Hollie Kenniff’s ethereal singing voice becomes the background of Nastiti’s story in my head, especially of the events that lead to her abortion and after. It also gives me a sense of metropolitan loneliness somehow, it is brimming with shadows and lights. As oppose to the previous song’s water element, this song is air to me, with the title “Aviary” being a symbol to Nastiti’s isolation during her short pregnancy, and later her chosen freedom, like a bird that escapes her imprisoning aviary.

Chapter II: Rukmini

“Swimmer’s Chants” by Mew

The second chapter is about Rukmini, the maternal grandmother of Nastiti, who was forced to become a “comfort woman” during the Japanese invasion of Java in the World War II. Not much of the story has anything to do with the lyrics of the song, but its bitter militaristic drum beats was a perfect soundscape for this chapter. Yup, another chapter means another Mew song.

“Picking Up All the Oranges” & “Edith” by Jonas Bjerre

If you think this is not Mew, think again. Technically it is not, but Jonas Bjerre is the lead singer of Mew, so we haven’t gone anywhere far yet. The only difference is that these two songs are instrumental, and this solo project of Jonas Bjerre is actually the soundtrack of a Danish movie, “Skyscraper”. I haven’t watched the movie, but I’m eternally in love with its OST, and these two particular songs illustrate Rukmini’s back story—as a Dutch-Javanese girl in the Dutch East Indies Semarang—in the best way possible for me.

“Comptine d’Un Autre Été, l’Après-midi” by Yann Tiersen, “Amélie” OST

Here is another OST of another movie, and it is not the last. Basically I love Yann Tiersen in general, but this song in particular is an incredible feat that spoke to the chapter, even though Amélie and Rukmini are two very different women.

Chapter III: Hana

“The Danish Girl” OST by Alexander Desplat

Albeit the controversy surrounding the casting of Eddie Redmayne as Lili, I found myself deeply moved by “The Danish Girl”. The whole soundtrack album by Alexander Desplat is marvellous. There is an echo in its melody of Hana, or Hanako, my main character in the third chapter, a Japanese housewife whose husband returned from the war with a profoundly disturbed mind. The first track especially, simply titled “The Danish Girl”, to me represents a journey of a woman in search of her true happiness. The music has a certain urgency in it, as well as a melancholic determination to understand oneself.

“The Cherry Blossoms” by Yonekawa Toshiko

A large part of this chapter is set in the 1940s and post-war Japan. In order to establish the ambience, I needed a high dose of classical Japanese music, and koto—a traditional Japanese string instrument—was an obvious choice. I came across this instrumental song somewhere on YouTube and immediately felt the feelings that I had while researching in Japan. It made me feel closer to Hanako, made me remember the sight of red leaves on the trees that I saw—the momiji, red as blood.        

Chapter IV: Ayaka

“Take Me Somewhere Nice” by Mogwai

This closing chapter is about Ayaka, told by our female narrator Dara. Ayaka is a well-known Japanese adult film star and Dara is a struggling Indonesian housewife living her anonymous life in Osaka, Japan. Her days are monotonous, and her nights constantly trying for a baby with her husband (and failing) are extremely unhappy. When she learns that her husband often watches porn materials featuring Ayaka, she becomes obsessed.

To me, Mogwai’s song “Take Me Somewhere Nice” is a reflection of what these two women might have felt. The title alone strongly mimics the overall emotion of the chapter, in which Ayaka is downright suicidal and Dara is quickly losing her mind. Both women pleaded to me to take them somewhere nice.

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Dias Novita Wuri was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, 1989. She graduated from Universitas Indonesia, majoring in Russian Language and Literature. In 2019, she earned a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Queen Mary, University of London.

She has published short stories in Indonesian newspapers since 2012. Her first book, Makramé, was published in 2017 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, and was longlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2018. Her second book, Jalan Lahir, was published in 2021 by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia.

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