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Literature / Cigarette Girl

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Cigarette Girl (Gadis Kretek) is a novel written by Ratih Kumala in 2012. It has been translated to English by Annie Tucker in 2015, who chose to leave many terms in Bahasa Indonesia and Javanese untranslated. It has also been translated into German.

The story opens when Soeraja, the owner of Kretek Djagad Raja, Indonesia's largest clove cigarette empire, is on his deathbed. He calls for Jeng Yah, a woman who is not his wife. His wife goes wild with jealousy, and his sons, Tegar, Karim and Lebas, were shocked. The brothers set on a quest into the deepest recesses of Java to find Jeng Yah and fulfil their father's dying wish, as well as discovering the truth about the family business and the secrets surrounding it.


Set in the Indonesian town of Java, the plot spans for three generations and several centuries, starting from the end of the Dutch Colonial Era and World War II, to the 30th September Movement of 1965, to the modern era. It tells of the birth and evolution of two families' clove cigarette businesses, and how they compete against each other.

The novel contains examples of:

  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Tegar thinks that Lebas is this.
  • The Atoner: The brothers become this when they discover that their father stole Jeng Yah's tobacco sauce formula and profited off it by using it for the Djagad Raja cigarettes.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Soedjagad's name means "the origin of the universe"
    • His given name, Uripno, has a humbler meaning; it means "to give life".
  • Benevolent Boss: Pak Trisno, Idroes Moeria's (former) employer, is willing to sell him his leftover tobacco when most of it was confiscated by the Japanese, and taught him how to read and write.
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  • Black Sheep: Lebas, who lives a happy-go-lucky lifestlye compared to the rest of the family and prefers to go for a career in filmmaking.
  • Chummy Commies: The members of the Communist Party of Indonesia are friendly to Soeraja and helps him by funding his first cigarette company.
  • Dreadlock Rasta: Erik, Lebas's friend from college, is one.
    • Lebas used to be one during college, when he switched to the Music major. He outgrew this phase after eight months, however.
  • The Dutiful Son: Tegar is determined to keep the Kretek Djagad Raya business running.
  • Entitled Bastard: The men who guard Dasiyah's placenta, expects gratitude for volunteering to do so despite being generally desruptive around Roemaisa. They even gloat and insult the couple when the placenta was stolen, as they think she deserves it for getting rid of them!
  • Excited Show Title!: Idroes Moeria named his cigarette brand "Independence!". Yes, with the exclamation points.
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  • Executive Meddling: In-Universe. The production house Lebas works for only lets him produce low-quality horror movies and soap operas. This results in him having a reputation as a C or B-class director at best.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Lebas and Tegar.
  • Foreshadowing: Mbok Marem's remark about Lady and Djagad Raja cigarettes being the same hint on Soeraja's theft of the secret formula for the tobacco sauce used in Lady cigarettes.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Purwanti, Soeraja's wife.
    • Jeng Yah was initially thought to be this. Subverted as she has other reasons to be upset at Soeraja. See "Woman Scorned" for details.
  • Happily Married: Idroes Moeria and Roemaisa. Soeraja and Purwanti counts as well, as their marriage was so harmonious that Lebas considers them the ideal couple.
  • Heroic BSoD: Roemaisa goes through one when Idroes Moeria gets captured by the Japanese. She gets better, eventually.
  • In Medias Res: The narrative switches back and forth between Idroes Moeria's story and the brothers' journey of finding the identity of Jeng Yah. It also employs several Flashbacks.
  • Irritation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Soedjagad copies everything Idroes Moeria does when it comes to selling cigarettes, and it irritates the latter so much that he aims to make a cigarette the former cannot successfully copy.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Soeraja was Jeng Yah's former lover and was engaged to her for a while, then he betrayed her trust by giving away the tobacco sauce formula for Lady cigarettes to Soedjagad.
  • Love Triangle: Between Idroes Moria, Soedjagad and Roemaisa.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Idroes Moeria's brand of klobot was named after Djojobojo, a Javanese king who made a prophecy about Indonesia's colonialization by the Dutch and the subsequent Japenese occupation during the 12th century.
  • Nephewism: Arum was raised by her aunt Rukayah after her mother Dasiyah died.
  • Only One Name: Nearly every named character, for the exception for Idroes Moeria and Arum Cengkeh.
  • Red Scare: One gets Idroes Moeria and Dasiyah imprisoned. It also forces Soeraja to run for his life as his first cigarette brand, Red Sickle, is affliated with Communists.
  • Road Trip Plot: The parts involving Soeraja's sons.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Karim ditches the road trip when he had enough of Tegar and Lebas's fighting. Thankfully, they make up before he gets a chance to leave.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: Many Djagad Raja knockoffs are made and sold alongside the roads in Java, and Lebas aims to collect and sample as many of them throughout the road trip. It's enough to make Karim think that Lady cigarettes are one of them.
  • The Storyteller: Soeraja tells stories to Dasiyah to impress her.
  • The Tramp: Soeraja was one before meeting Dasiyah.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Soedjagad, when it comes to telling about what happens between him and Roemaisa. Karim acknowledges this.
  • Uptown Girl: The romances between Idroes Moeria and Roemaisa, Soeraja and Dasiyah, and Soeraja and Purwanti.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Idroes Moeria and Soedjagad used to be friends before they were driven apart by their rivalry over Roemaisa.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: M Town, the town Idroes Moeria and Soedjagad grew up in, was never really specified.
  • Woman Scorned: Subverted with Jeng Yah. It is thought that this was the reason she smashed a kerosene lamp over Soeraja's head on his wedding, but actually she only wanted Soeraja to be happy at first after hearing of his marriage to Soedjagad's daughter Purwanti. But as soon as she discovered that he stole the formula of the sauce for her Lady cigarettes, she went ballistic.

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