“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


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]


Singapore Book Launch Update for INDONESIA AND NOT: POEMS AND OTHERWISE.

Singapore Writers Festival Book launch:


Author: Max Lane

DATE / TIME: 6 Nov, Sun 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM

VENUE:  The Arts House, Gallery II, Singapore

This is a collection of poetry, prose pieces and short stories inspired by the experiences of Max Lane, translator of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet and collaborator with other Indonesian and Southeast Asian intellectuals and actors in Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

The book launch will comprise:

An IN CONVERSATION session with author Max Lane. Lane will talk about his 45 years of experience with Indonesia and Southeast Asian and its relationship to this collection as well as his work on a major creative non-fiction book on the origins and meaning for Indonesia of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s This Earth of Mankind Buru Quartet novels.

But there is also a second Max Lane, a Singaporean, a musician. He has written music to some of the poetry. There will be some playing of these musicalized poems. (see below for more info). Continue reading “Singapore Book Launch Update for INDONESIA AND NOT: POEMS AND OTHERWISE.”

FARMERS AND FESTIVALS: Looking back at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Bali, Indonesia

Probably more than 500 people registered to attend the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (URWF), held in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia in October. I think there were at least 100 writers also making presentations, participating on panels, and launching books. Included among the 100 writers were around 20 Indonesian writers, representing a steady increase in the number of Indonesian writers participating.

This UWRF was the first I had attended so I cannot make comparisons on the past, except for what people told me. Certainly, the increase in Indonesian participation, was development. Another was the evolving of fringe activities, including the holding of some forums and discussions with young Indonesian writers held at Udayana University, the state university based in the capital of Bali, Denpasar.

Continue reading “FARMERS AND FESTIVALS: Looking back at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Bali, Indonesia”