Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why The Ten Thousand Things AND This Earth of Mankind?

My Dutch-Javanese Batik Stamp dating from the era of both novels

My first country with a history of colonial rule--and I immediately hit a snag. Whose viewpoint should I read about--the rulers or the ruled?

That's not exactly, true of course; both Australia and New Zealand can be described as colonized lands. For New Zealand, I picked a Maori/Scottish writer, thus eliminating the problem. For Australia, I thought about selecting an Aborigine writer, but most of the books I could obtain easily, such as Sally Morgan's "My Place" were autobiographies, and I preferred to read fiction, especially since I had all ready planned to read several South East Asian memoirs. So Tim Winton--whom I had never heard of--won out.

Now I've run into the same problem In Indonesia, and it will continue to be a dilemna throughout my year of reading, particularly in Africa. Originally I had just "The Ten Thousand Things" by Maria Dermout picked out, partly because I was intrigued by the novel, and partly because I wasn't planning on reading a book set in The Netherlands, even though I love that country. Then I started feeling guilty, and so I decided to read  "This Earth of Mankind" by Pramoedya Ananta Toer as well. Obviously, I can't keep doing this for every colonized country in the world, or every country with multiple ethic groups, or I will never finish this challenge.


Maria Dermout (1888-1962) was born on a sugar plantation in the Dutch East Indies. She was sent to The Netherlands for schooling, then returned to the Spice Islands after her marriage. She left her homeland before the outbreak of World War II and settled permanently at The Hague. Her only surviving child died as a soldier in a Japanese POW camp. Her work was only published during the last decade of her life.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) was a famous Indonesian dissident. Some of his earlier works were written when he was a prisoner of the Dutch colonial government  between 1947 and 1949. He later fell afoul of Suharto's regime and was banished for fourteen years in Buru island, where political prisoners were kept. The Buru Quartet, of which This Earth of Mankind is the first part, was composed orally and smuggled off of the island by other prisoners. His English translator, Max Lane, was recalled home from the Australian Embassy due to his part in publishing the books. Until 2010, it was illegal in Indonesia to read any of his works.

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading the Toer too, but really only because it was the first book on my list that I found for Indonesia! What you've learned is interesting, and I'm looking forward to it.