In ‘The Garlic Peanut Story’, author Jonathan Rachman hopes to convey how powerful unconditional love can be. He shares through his memoir lessons of letting go, of releasing ones grudges, and how to fully appreciate the special people in our lives.

A world-class interior designer, whose fame in the field has reached international renown, Jonathan Rachman has had to find his own definition of forgiveness. For him, forgetting or excusing the harm done to him in the past simply wasn’t enough, through his own emotional journey he developed a way to understand, empathise and even be compassionate for those who hurt him.

In November 2020, Rachman released The Garlic Peanut Story, an epistolary memoir about his relationship with Wewe, his beloved sister, an affectionate woman to whom he wished to pay tribute.

Rachman is cheery, always seen with a big smile on his face as he enjoys his jet-setting and globe-trotting lifestyle — a far-cry from how he once was as he endured a painful childhood. Born in the Lampung province of Sumatra, Rachman was raised in a Christian household. If being of a minority religion wasn’t enough, he was also born queer, into a large and dysfunctional family where undertones of cyclical and inherited violence lurked.

Right now, people see me as a celebrated interior designer. From my Instagram, I’m a jet setter, I travel around the world, I have a happy life and have a good husband. Which is true. It’s not a lie. What you see is what you get. But what people don’t realise was I had a horrible, horrendous, and terrible childhood,” saysRachman openly.

He continues, reeling back to some of his earliest memories: “I was verbally, mentally, physically, and sexually abused. There were different tormentors. Some were children, some were older, my gardener, my teacher at school and even my brother was very unkind to me. They called me banci, bencong, homo… and those words made me upset every time I heard them, even it wasn’t directed on me. Everyday I had a black and blue mark on my body. I carried this burden all my life,” Rachman shares. 

But not all people around him were nefarious. He had a protector, Wewe. His sister who covered for him and made him feel better when he was tormented by the many people around him. Upon thinking back to his childhood days, Rachman still finds it hard to believe how badly he was mistreated; the enduring effects of such treatment follows people like a dark and heavy shadow throughout their lives. Instead, despite of this, he has blossomed in life, and he believes that this was because of sister’s love.

Wewe was an angel on earth. She had not a drop of hate in her blood. She was all about kindness and love. She was 10 years older than me. As a young kid, I would wait eagerly for her to come home from school and I would drop everything as soon as I heard her come in the door. What I remember vividly is that she would bring me garlic peanuts everyday.  Later in life, I found out that it was the only pocket money that my mother gave her every day, and she spent it on me. This was the the inspiration for my memoir’s title. ” said Rachman. 

Rachman admits that he didn’t plan to publish the book. Wewe sadly passed away at the age of 46 due to cancer, about 17 years ago, and she left a son who was only four at that time, and a daughter who was only six. Rachman realised that Wewe’s children needed a way to remember their mother, so he began writing and assembling his letters. 

This book is about my sister Wewe and I want to remind her children about their Mum from my point of view. The truth is, I also wanted to write this book because I want to forgive those who hurt me and I want them to forgive themselves. For the longest time I didn’t see my brother. I stopped talking to him for around 15 years. But through finding true forgiveness, my brother has become my best friend.” Rachman said.

Rachman admitted that at times the anger would resurface, that upon remembering moments of his childhood he would still weep and sob in grief. It took him 10 years to write the first three chapters, but during the pandemic he was able to write 10 chapters of this book in six months.

The Garlic Peanut Story, published by Indonesian publishers Saritaksu, is a book that conveys many messages of forgiveness and love, as Jonathan Rachman hopes the readers will be inspired by his own experiences to forgive people in their own lives.

I wrote this story because I want to help people. I want people to heal even the people who have wronged me. For me, forgiveness is power. I want to share the message of love, of unconditional love for my sister, who protected me while I was abused.” This love, it seems, is thicker than blood. as Rachman revealed to NOW! Jakarta that Wewe was not his biological sister; she was the daughter of the family’s chauffeur, adopted by his parents before Rachman was born.

Find out more about Jonathan Rachman and his book at:

Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.