Publisher brings Indonesian literature to light 

San Mateo-based publisher Lian Gouw is on a mission to tell the world about Indonesia.

“It’s my gift to my country,” says the founder and operator of Dalang Publishing, who is slated to lead a discussion about one of her titles, “My Name Is Mata Hari,” at Pacifica Sanchez Library on Friday.

“My goal is to bring Indonesian stories to the world. We deserve a place in the world. I took on that challenge,” says Gouw, 78, who points out that Indonesia, with nearly 250 million residents, is the fourth most populous country in the world.

The feisty Gouw — who emphasizes that her endeavors are a labor of love offering “absolutely no monetary gain” — also is the author of “Only a Girl,” another work on Dalang’s three-title list of English translations of significant Indonesian literary works, which are all historical fiction.

The publisher’s third and most recent title, called “Potions and Paper Cranes,” is a historical novel that addresses issues of domestic violence against women by the late Lan Fang, an Indonesian feminist and activist who died in 2011 at age 41.

Gouw admits that Dalang’s books aren’t light beach reading: “They grabbed me and my gut,” she says.

But readers will learn a lot about Indonesia — its history as a Dutch colony, its revolution and subsequent independence — if they read the books in chronological order of the periods in which they are set.

First would be “My Name is Mata Hari,” set at the height of Indonesia’s colonial period. The book, a translation of a work by Remy Sylado, imagines how a Dutch girl became an exotic dancer in Java, a courtesan, and later was executed after being presumed a German spy during World War I.

“Only a Girl” — which describes the trials and tribulations of three generations of Chinese women struggling for identity against the backdrop of the Great Depression, World War II and the Indonesian Revolution — takes place between 1930 and 1952.

Finally, “Potions and Paper Cranes,” set in East Java, describes everyday life in Indonesia at the end of World War II, the boiling point of the Indonesian Revolution, and the beginning of a free Indonesia.

Gouw, who has visited her home country three times since coming to the U.S. decades ago, grew up speaking Dutch (as well as English, French and German) and recently has become fluent in Indonesian — clearly part of her vision to increase Indonesia’s literary exposure.

Her next goal is to beef up Dalang’s list of titles, and to present them in October 2015 in Germany, when Indonesia will be the guest of honor at the famed international Frankfurt Book Fair.


Lian Gouw

Discussing “My Name is Mata Hari”

Where: Pacifica Sanchez Library, 1111 Terra Nova Blvd., Pacifica

When: 11 a.m. Friday

Contact: (650) 359-3397,

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Leslie Katz

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