My boys were into those Choose Your Own Adventure books last year, although that interest faded away surprisingly sooner than I expected. I remember liking those quite a bit when I was a kid. Then again, the variety in children’s literature nowadays is so much better, maybe the Choose Your Own Adventure books no longer hold kids in thrall these days?
Or maybe I am just still a kid at heart, for I was tickled with delight when I reached that moment in The Wandering where I got to pick between two choices. Do I go with (choice one) and turn to this page, or do I go with (choice two) and turn to this other page? What would be a wiser choice? Or really, what would be a more thrilling choice?
When you get to pick, would you pick something you personally would have gone with or would you pick the one which make for a more exciting story?
We begin with the devil. And you are his lover. He worships you and courts you with gifts of chocolate and flowers. But soon, you tire of his gifts. You ask him to grant you a wish – to get away from Jakarta, Indonesia, not to be a tourist, but to live in places far away, places you’ve never been to. The next day, you wake to find a pair of glittering red shoes by your bed and a contract. The contract says, if you return home, you will lose everything, your home will not be what it was. To accept the contract, you wear the shoes.
And find yourself in a taxi, heading to the airport, ready to leave New York. But as you leave the taxi, you realise one red shoe is missing. And here you are given the first choice – return to New York, report your loss to the police, or continue on your journey to Berlin.
It is a wander through the world, through self-discovery, through mythology and Indonesian folklore as well as popular culture.
And as I finished one version of the story, I immediately went back for a different version. Until I finally read through all the different storylines. In the end, it wasn’t really about the plot lines, but like the title, it was a wandering between alternate possibilities, a meandering through different countries (although admittedly, fewer than I was hoping), different stories, via the decisions the reader takes.
The Wandering is an especially interesting book to read during these times (it was originally published in Indonesian in 2017 and then in English in 2020) – when border crossings are restricted, when flights have dwindled to just a handful a day, newspaper articles about families separated for months because of illness, immigration issues, visa problems. Personally, I have often wondered (and more often since the way the mangled way the US has handled the pandemic), what if we had returned to Singapore, instead of staying on here? What would our lives have been like?