ARTICLE (re-post): WHY YOU SHOULD READ INDONESIA’S “THIS EARTH OF MANKIND” by Max Lane

“In January 2014 Joshua Oppenheimer’s film on Indonesia, The Act of Killing, was nominated for an academy award, reflecting its penetration into mainstream film watching. Many people will be introduced to Indonesia by this vivid study of the country’s ruling lumpen elite. Another, very different, introduction to Indonesia might be reading Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s historical novel Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind).

The English language edition of This Earth of Mankind was published by Penguin in 1983. The sequels to this novel, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass, were published over the following several years by Penguin in Australia and the United Kingdom. They were launched into the United States by William Morrow, Hyperion and Penguin in the 1990s. As their translator, I am very pleased to see that they are still in print 30 years later, having had many reprints. The four novels are likely to appear soon as eBooks, Penguin USA having bought the eBook rights. They appear already to be advertised as eBooks for Kindle on Amazon.com.

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Pramoedya’s work has, on the whole, met with critical acclaim in the West, in particular the United States. The publication of other translations followed, such as Silent Songs of a Mute,Fugitive, Girl from the Coast and collections of short stories. In 1992 the New York Times reviewer wrote:

Now comes a book of far greater scope and depth from independent Indonesia’s greatest but still most controversial fiction writer, whose career spans more than 40 years. “This Earth of Mankind,” the first in a cycle of four novels, is the tale of a bittersweet coming of age in Java, Indonesia’s dominant island, almost a century ago. Through it, we are taken back to the days of nascent Indonesian nationalism. But the author is a humanist, not a propagandist, and so his novel is also a wonderful example of the best storytelling tradition of his country.[1]

In 1996, after House of Glass appeared, the Washington Post reviewer wrote:

The Buru Tetralogy is one of the 20th century’s great artistic creations, a work of the richest variety, color, size and import, founded on a profound belief in mankind’s potential for greatness and shaped by a huge compassion for mankind’s weakness.[2]

Jamie James in his article “The Indonesiad” in The New Yorker wrote:

Pramoedya’s masterwork is the Buru Quartet, a cycle of novels set in the final, decadent years of Dutch colonialism in Java. The series follows the life of a revolutionary journalist named Minke. The first native Javanese boy to attend the elite Dutch colonial high school, Minke is full of idealistic notions about European progress. The process of his disillusionment and forging of his Indonesian identity – a new element in the periodic table of history – [forms] the novels’ core. The Buru Quartet is saturated with the gothic gloom and steamy atmosphere of the rain forest. With the publication this month, by William Morrow, of the quartet’s final volume, “House of Glass,” and the paperback reissue, by Penguin, of its predecessors, “This Earth of Mankind,” “Child of All Nations,” and “Footsteps,” American readers can now follow Pramoedya’s saga of Minke – one of the most ambitious undertakings in postwar world literature – from beginning to end.[3]

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Aussie Sketch: Smokey Chilli Politics by Max Lane

It was a big room, as hotel rooms go. That hotel was famous for its large rooms. Big beds also. It was in the centre of Jakarta. On the roof was a very big swimming pool. But no garden surrounds, just concrete. Good for swimmers, but not for those who wanted to muck around in the water and occasional rest by the pool. Arid and concrete.The big room was meant for, as usual, two people. A double bed meant a couple, usually. Or just a lone person. When the door opened, after I knocked with the proper code, at first I couldn’t see how many people there were inside. Too much cigarette smoke. My eyes hurt and my throat itched. I thought immediately that the next few hours, no matter how interesting politically, was going to be torture physically.

This was in Jakarta, 199x. Suharto was still dictator.

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Humiliated Australian imperialism lashes out: lawyer and intelligence agent with consciences threatened with gaol. by Max Lane

The laying of criminal charges under the Intelligence Services Act 2001 against Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery in relation to their exposure of the Australian government’s reprehensible bugging of the East Timorese government’s cabinet room is a case of a defeated and wounded elitist white imperialism lashing out at somebody at home because they can’t do it to the people who humiliated them: the leadership and people of Timor Leste.  Of course, no doubt they also see it as a warning against others who might dare try to expose the criminal activity of the Australian state.  But don’t under-estimate the resentment of humiliation and defeat that Australian imperialism has experienced at the hands of Timor Leste. The first court hearing is scheduled for July 25 in Canberra. If they are convicted, the maximum sentence is two years gaol.

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Gareth Evans and Ali Alatas signing the original Timor Gap Treaty.

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AUSSIE SKETCHES FROM NUSANTARA 2: Oyster Omelettes, Hitchhiking, and Pots and Pans

I hitch-hiked from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur in Malayisa, and then on to Ipoh, in 1970. This though wasn’t my first venture into hitch-hiking.

I started hitch-hiking when I was in high-school. I was a young boy living in the western suburbs of Sydney who read adventure stories, the best of which were, of course, this by Robert Louis Stevenson. But I read stories from the 20th century also. Hitch-hiking was the closest I could get to an adventure. I hitch-hiked around New South Wales sleeping over mainly in youth hostels. It was fun. There were no really big adventurous moments, although a few things do still remain vivid in my mind. I saw my first fully naked woman on one trip. I got a lift for a long stretch of driving coming back into outer western Sydney. The driver was a merchant sailor who had just visited his parents in the country and now he was on his way to see a friend. Perhaps, I thought, the kind of friend that a sailor has in every port. It turned out that the lady friend in question lived in a caravan park. We parked near the caravan and the sailor-man entered straight into the caravan calling out his friends name. She appeared wearing a gown that was obviously very deliberately open. She wasn’t aware that her friend had a 16 year old hitch hiker with him. Anyway, she did up her gown and we the three of us sat down around the caravan table and had tea and biscuits. I then got a lift from the same driver to the nearest railway station and caught the train back to Fairfield.

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Blayney, NSW
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Ipoh, Malaysia

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Aussie sketches from Nusantara 1: Hamburgers, babi guling, and a map of Bali. by Max Lane

It was a map of Bali. It was one of those cheap topographic maps, made primarily for ornamentation rather than as an actual map. It was hung on the wall. I could see Denpasar, Bali’s capital, and the great volcano, Mount Agung that had erupted seven years before in 1962. Other mountains, rivers, lakes and towns were also easily discernible, even while I sat on the sofa across from the wall. To my right was a glass floor to ceiling wall through which I could see the green and colours of a tropical garden: yellows, and whites, and rich maroons. But the map hanging on the wall was large and spectacular enough to dominate this small sofa alcove inside the Bali Beach Hotel on Sanur Beach, the only international hotel in Bali in 1969.

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Max Lane: Kenapa Indonesia Takut Ajarkan Pramoedya di Sekolah?

“Banyak para sarjana, intelektual, maupun kaum muda Indonesia yang fasih berbicara mengenai sejarah pemikiran Yunani kuno hingga Eropa modern. Namun, ketika membicarakan sejarah bangsanya sendiiri, mereka gagap atau cuma mengikuti teks-teks historis maupun sastra arus utama sehingga gagal mengenali negerinya sendiri.

Setidaknya, itulah inti kritik yang dilontarkan Max Lane, seorang Indonesianis asal Australia dan sosok yang kali pertama menerjemahkan Tetralogi Pulau Buru Pramoedya Ananta Toer ke dalam bahasa Inggris.

Tetralogi Pulau Buru, adalah sebutan beken untuk empat roman karya sastrawan terbesar Indonesia tersebut: Bumi Manusia, Anak Semua Bangsa, Jejak Langkah, dan Rumah Kaca.

Orang-orang terdahulu, mereka berjuang dan berkorban untuk mendapatkan kemerdekaan secara susah payah. Tapi setelah merdeka mau apa? ” kata Max dalam diskusi peluncuran bukunya ”Indonesia Tidak Hadir di Bumi Indonesia” di Galeri Cipta III, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Cikini, Jakarta Pusat, Sabtu, 12  Agustus tahun lalu.”

Selengkapnya membaca disini.