The great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer passed away 30th April.
Born in Central Java in 1925, Pak Pram (as he is affectionately known) spent much of his life in prison under successive regimes. The Dutch jailed him in 1947 for being "anti-colonialist.'' And under the Suharto regime he spent 14 years without trial on the desolate prison island of Buru , accused of sympathizing with Chinese communists.
It was in the penal colony that he conceived his most famous work: what came to be known as The Buru Quartet about Indonesia' struggle for independence from the Dutch. His writing was smuggled out on scraps of paper, but when he was later denied writing materials, he told the stories to his fellow prisoners, committing them to memory by frequent repetition, so that he was able to write them down after his release. The novels were published in 1979.
(I have read the first two parts This Earth of Mankind and A Child of All Nations and found them intriguing, especially as my knowledge of Indonesia's past was extremely sketchy. Pramoedya also tells one of literature's great love stories when student Minke marries Annelies, the mixed-blood daughter of a wealthy concubine. There is for sure a C19th feel about the writing and I found myself reminded of the writing of Dostoevsky and Dickens.)
As Raman tells it in an obit in his "Litmag", we had plans to invite Pramoedya to the literary festival, and sent Lorna Tee to Java to make contact with him and other Indonesian writers. Lorna found him a most gracious host, but said it was a little difficult to talk to him as he was almost deaf (the result of a beating from a soldier whilst on Buru). He was of course too sick to make the journey to Malaysia, but how we would have loved to have him!
He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times, and would have fully deserved the award.