Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)
Translated by Max Lane (from Indonesian)
Originally 1975, I read 1996 Penguin edition
367 pages, historical novel, political, love story, psychological
Found: $1 rack at Half Price Books, Hamilton, Ohio, USA
Pramoedya Ananta Toer originally composed this remarkable novel and its three sequels while he was imprisoned by the anti-Left Suharto regime. Since he was denied writing materials, he orally recited the stories for the other prisoners, only writing them down several years later!
My interest in this book is primarily literary and cultural. Pramoedya Ananta Toer has masterfully combined a devastating critique of colonialism with a poignant love story, set in the late 1800s before Indonesia had even been named.
Minke is the only Native Javanese student in the H.B.S., one of the best high schools in the Dutch Indies. Despite his obvious academic abilities, he would not have gained admission to this prestigious school if it were not for his grandfather's status. It turns out that Minke is descended from Javanese royalty! But his high position in Javanese society doesn't help much in his school or when mingling with the Europeans. Due to his race, all of his western education and ideas, his ability to speak and read fluent Dutch, and his dreams of being a journalist or writer cannot gain him real admission to colonial society. He is inherently a lesser being because he is a pure-blooded Native. The Indos, or part-natives, will always be higher than him, and of course the Pure Europeans will always have the most authority of all.