Monday, May 01, 2006

The Passing of Pak Pram

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.


CW said...

Oh no!! (That was my immediate reaction on reading your post)

Rest in peace, Bapak! :( My condolences to his family. I have read Bumi Manusia and Anak Semua Bangsa - great experiences - and will have to reread them now.

lil ms d said...

my first book was keluarga gerilya. then i went on to his other books like the girl from the sea etc. friends borrowed and never returned them, which means i have to START all over again.

he is an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Would he have written what he did if he grw up in a wealthy family in a stable country ? I wonder.

bibliobibuli said...

cw - thinking the same about rereading

dina - oh goodness don't mention lost books lent to friends ...

anon - *sigh* probably not ... just look at those cambodian writers who struggled against the odds ... perhaps all writing should be banned so that it gets reenergised underground

Jane Sunshine said...

Anon and Sharon's comment seem to emphasize the fact that great art tends to come out of great suffering. Hmmm..........

Anonymous said...

It probably does.. or at least the kind of writing that most people tend to consider "great art." Maybe that's the reason why people don't write past their first great novel. After hitting the bestseller lists, you're not suffering anymore.

I suppose if you grew up wealthy in a stable country you might write something like Sophie Kinsella's "shopaholic" series.

Pak Tuo said...


Could resist such a good blog
sorry a bit delay but I agree what a man he was.

May Al Mighty Bless his good soul.Amen.