His Darkest Hour

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)
Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)

Every Indonesian must read these books.

You  must have known Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was, in my opinion, one of the best writer in the world. I’m not exaggerating here, and I do think everyone should read his works. Well, I think everyone should try to.

This is why I think the guy is a genius.

When I was a little kid, I already know that my country – Indonesia – is a country that had been colonized by the Dutch about three and a half centuries. I knew it from the history school books, and I have a sympathetic feeling for my beloved Indonesia. But that is it. It just a sympathy. Not that I say that being sympathetic is wrong, but it’s not enough. We are living in a country that already free from colonization. Some of us are never experiencing how is it feel to be a slave in your own land (and thanks to God that we didn’t experience it), but do you think that we still care?

The last question lead us to the reason why I think Pramoedya is a genius.

It was him who made me realized how the world blinded us all, how the so called democracy and freedom made us to be ignorant and careless. Please do not take it wrong, for I do think that democracy and freedom are everything that people needs in this modern times. But it turned out that I – and the majority of generation who were born in 1970-2000 – are forgetting the fact that our nation used to live in a very, very, difficult times and it is part of our job to fix it.

Pramoedya made it simple with his books, Kuartet Pulau Buru (The Pulau Buru Quartet).

The Pulau Buru Quartet are a Tetralogy, a work that made up four distinct books. The Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, and Glass House. They are recognized as the most powerful works of literature in the 20th century.

The Pulau Buru Quartet told us about a boy whose name is Minke (Raden Mas Tirto Adi Suryo), who struggled in the time when the Dutch still grabs her unlimited power over Indonesia (whose name was The Dutch Indies at that time) circa 19th century. Minke is a Javanese boy, a descendant of Javanese aristocrat, thus make him an aristocrat as well. This aristocrat status that Minke held, make him familiar with the Dutch education and lifestyle. Familiar he is with the Dutch education, makes him depressed and confused whenever he faces his own people, the Javanese.

Pramoedya describes Minke’s journey and thinking in the most beautiful way possible. Minke is the Javanese who must face the bitter and cruel form of colonialism, while he still see and experience the Javanese culture (which in Pramoedya’s mind, already loses almost everything). The Javanese were already meet their dusk when the modern ideas finally reached Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It was their dark ages, their darkest hour. It is surprising – well, maybe shocking – when we read the Tetralogy and realize how deep our civilization had fallen.

Pramoedya wake us up in his simple, humble way. His books, including Pulau Buru Quartet, were banned in the New Order Era (1968-1998). Some people had an argument that his books are very provocative and Left. Therefore his books should not be read with Indonesian. Well, such argument is nonsense, since his books are very enlighten and will boost your nationalism to its highest peak. I don’t know the reason why his books should be banned. It’s a relieve that the Reformation Era were allowing the publisher to distribute his works, and we could read and discuss his ideas again.

Pramoedya wrote Pulau Buru Quartet when the New Order Government were sending him to Buru Island. He was imprisoned without trial process, thus made him an exile for 10 years (1969-1979). It was in these darkest hour that Pramodeya tried to write Pulau Buru Quartet. Although the government forbid him to write, he chose the oral way to tell his stories, memorize it, and then write it later secretly.  His effort and dedication is amazing, and it is him who opened my eyes to see what actually happened with my people, what went wrong.

Every Indonesian should read his books, and we will fix and build together what had been broken and scattered all over places.

2 thoughts on “His Darkest Hour

  1. great post. i read the first book of the quartet in 2002, mainly because i was fascinated to find a book by indonesian author in a library in Singapore. But i was soon hooked to it, Nyai Ontosoroh is such an inspirational character😀

    1. She is, isn’t she? Nyai Ontosoroh is a fighter and a sophisticated woman. You should read the others.🙂

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