Subject: Pramoedya Ananta Toer dies at 81

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Agence France-Presse
Sunday April 30, 2006

Nobel Candidate Pramoedya Dies

Indonesia's best known writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer dies at 81

Indonesia's most celebrated novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer has died at the age of 81, his family said.

Relatives said Pramoedya died at his East Jakarta home at 8.55 am.

A relative who identified himself as Gunawan said Pramoedya had been hospitalized since Thursday for heart and other problems associated with advanced age but on Saturday evening had insisted on returning home.

The exact cause of death was not clear, though one of his grandchildren, Adit, said he believed Pramoedya died of a stroke.

Pramoedya is best known for his "Buru Quartet" series written during 14 years of political detention on Buru island in Maluku province under then president Suharto.

Hailed by many international critics as Indonesia's leading modern novelist, his work has been translated into 30 languages.

He was imprisoned by three successive regimes for writing seen as politically uncompromising and consequently his books were largely banned until Suharto's rule came to an end in 1998.

The novelist, essayist and short story writer was nominated several times for the Nobel prize for literature, first in 1986, and last year was the only Indonesian to appear on a list of 100 leading intellectuals named by Britain's cultural Prospect magazine.

While Pramoedya never openly declared his political allegiances, he was accused of being a communist by Suharto, who in 1965 banned the then powerful Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) after a failed coup attempt and launched a campaign against sympathisers that left at least 500,000 dead and saw over one million arbitrarily arrested and jailed.

In the Buru series, set in the 1920s when the country was still a Dutch colony, Pramoedya's portrayal of rising nationalism differed from the official version.

His first jail term, under the Dutch colonial administration, was in 1947-1949 for agitating for independence.

The country's first president Sukarno imprisoned him once more between 1960 and 1961, while Suharto jailed him without trial from 1965 until 1979.

His mastery of colloquial language added realism to his novels, and the alleged leftist tenor of his works angered Suharto's staunchly anti-communist government.

After his release from prison, he remained under close government surveillance until 1992, and was only able to leave the country after Suharto's fall.

He received various awards and international recognition, including France's Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Japanese Fukuoka Asian Culture Grand Prize, both in 2000.

He also received the 1995 Ramon Magasasay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts and, in 1992, the PEN Freedom to Write Award.

Pramoedya Ananta ToerPramoedya on East Timor

Interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, 1999

AMY GOODMAN: May I ask what your thoughts are about East Timor today?

PRAMOEDYA ANANTA TOER: [translated] The situation in East Timor today is the result of mistaken and idiotic policy on the part of the government. Here we have the imperialist countries releasing their colonies, and Indonesia is going in and occupying East Timor. I don't understand it at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see hope of the occupation ending and East Timor becoming independent?

PRAMOEDYA ANANTA TOER: [translated] In my personal opinion, I think it should be free right now. Too much death has taken place on that island, and for no reason whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: Do the people of Indonesia understand that? Do they learn that as they're growing up?

PRAMOEDYA ANANTA TOER: [translated] Most Indonesians are paying attention to their own problems. Even I, myself, don't have time to give proper attention to the problem. Coincidentally, however, my home, which was confiscated and taken from me when I was exiled to Buru Island is now being used as a temporary barracks by the military for the soldiers returning from East Timor.

AMY GOODMAN: And the last question on Timor, and that is, in East Timor we see now the Indonesian military arming Timorese paramilitaries. Do you see parallels to other examples in Indonesian politics or history? For the Timorese to kill the Timorese?

PRAMOEDYA ANANTA TOER: [translated] This is no more than a policy of cannibalism. It's primitive because Indonesia gave up cannibalism 170 years ago. At the time, people killed and ate other humans to take their power. Now, if you kill villagers, their flesh is not eaten, but it's done so that one feels stronger and bigger.


Salon: Indonesia's greatest novelist reflects on his nation's upcoming election and on the crimes of his archenemy, Suharto.

By Robert Templer
June 4, 1999

The government has signed an agreement with Portugal on East Timor. Will the military let East Timor go?

The Indonesian army needs a target for all the weapons that they have accumulated from abroad. East Timor should be free to do what they feel they need to do. Indonesia should simply let them go. But the army has been using them for target practice. The irony of the situation is that Indonesia is a nation that fought against foreign occupation, but it became an occupying force. And this is again because of the army.


Call to the Young Generation/Students

Congratulations to you and your struggle!

With the achievement of your initial victory it is called for here, for the sake of justice, truth and upholding Indonesian human dignity, to carry out further efforts in every corner of the motherland, including the New Order's occupied territory, East Timor: to document families whose members have been butchered, abducted and lost or returned, the theft of basic rights including the rights to freedom, property, livelihood, and self-defence against accusation and slander, that the New Order has committed from 1965 to the present.

I'm with you!

Jakarta, May 22, 1998
Pramoedya Ananta Toer


Translator: Alex G. Bardsley

My Apologies, in the Name of Experience

Source: Indonesia 61 (April 1996), 1--14

Both before and while [we were] on Buru the charge continually spouted by the New Order, without ever showing evidence, was [that we] wanted to change the Pancasila and the '45 Constitution. Usually it was proclaimed in front of a rally or during indoctrination. One of the principles of the Pancasila is Just and Civilized Humanism. By the criterion of humanism, even without the addition of "just and civilized/' their treatment of us was quite disgusting, even sickening. The charge of changing the Constitution? Once I heard an officer boast: East Timor? Huh, in two days we can take it. And true, East Timor was latter annexed, the eastern part of the island of Timor that had never been claimed by the founders of the Republic who composed the Constitution of '45. Those two charges led me to the certain conclusion, that what they charged was precisely what they were doing or wanted to do. Because a number of events fit my conclusion, I was sometimes inclined to consider it a formula. But later I softened it to: what is stated as x is minus x.

The Associated Press
April 30, 2006

Famed Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer Dies

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an outspoken democracy advocate who overcame imprisonment and censorship to publish dozens of stories and novels about his country, died Sunday. He was 81.

Pramoedya ''dedicated his whole life to this country through his work,'' his daughter, Tatiana Ananta, told The associated Press.

''We all have lost a great father, a great author,'' she said. ''I am very proud of him.''

Pramoedya -- jailed under successive regimes, including 14 years under ex-dictator Suharto -- was nominated several times for a Nobel Prize in literature and his 34 books and essays have been translated into 37 languages.

His best-known works -- the ''Buru Quartet'' novels about Indonesia's independence struggle against the Dutch -- were written on scraps of paper and surreptitiously smuggled out while he was imprisoned on the remote island of Buru.

Age and deteriorating health -- combined with a sense of closure in his work -- kept Pramoedya from writing since 2000, though he collaborated with one of his daughters on an encyclopedia of Indonesia.

He was hospitalized on Thursday for complications brought on by diabetes and heart disease. He was also a heavy smoker and had endured years of abuse while in detention.

Pramoedya asked to leave Jakarta's Catholic St. Carolus Hospital late Saturday, said his grandson, Kiki Sepitan.

Upon arriving home, the author immediately lit up a clove cigarette -- he was rarely seen without one -- and his condition deteriorated overnight, he said.

Born in 1925 to a rice farmer during Dutch colonial rule, the eldest of nine children criticized successive governments over more than a half century, even in his last frail years. He reserved his harshest judgment for Suharto, who was blamed for the death and imprisonment of more than a million Indonesians.

But Pramoedya's ideas -- once a major influence fueling the pro-democracy groundswell that toppled Suharto in 1998 -- have been largely cast aside as Indonesia struggles to revive its economy, defeat Islamic extremists responsible for a string of deadly bombings, and put down separatist rebellions.

Indonesian author and journalist Goenawan Muhammad credited Pramoedya with putting his nation on the world map of literature and called him ''an important example of how freedom of speech and creativity is needed.''

Pramoedya was first jailed in 1947 by Dutch troops for being ''anti-colonialist.''

He was later accused of sympathizing with Chinese communists and imprisoned again shortly after Suharto came to power in the aftermath of the assassination of right-wing Indonesian generals in 1965.

Pramoedya's left-leaning, outspoken style earned him enemies within Suharto's regime and his works were banned from circulation. He was thrown in a cell without trial, first off the coast of mainland Java, and then in the penal colony of Buru, along with thousands of other opponents of the U.S.-backed regime.

Pramoedya advocated the removal of bureaucrats and politicians ''tainted'' by Suharto-era abuses, but corruption remains rampant and some of the old dictator's cronies remain in office.

He also wanted an inclusive government that welcomed people from parts of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago outside the main island of Java, but the Javanese still hold the reins of power.

''I am half blind and almost totally deaf, but I won't stop being angry because not many people are outraged enough at the state of Indonesia,'' he told The AP in 2004.

see also: TAPOL: Memories of Pramoedya Ananta Toer


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Exile: Conversations with Pramoedya Ananta Toer
by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Publisher Comments
Fascinating... endlessly sad.-Noam Chomsky In these remarkable interviews with Andre Vltchek and Rossie Indira, edited by Nagesh Rao, Indonesia's most celebrated writer speaks out against tyranny and injustice in a young and troubled nation. Toer here... (read more)

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available May 2006
Tales from Djakarta Tales from Djakarta
by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Tales from Djakarta is a collection of thirteen short stories written between 1948 and 1956 - a period of bitter transition from the revolutionary era to the beginnings of military rule in Indonesia. These stories not only give us a taste of Pramoedya's... (read more)

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The Girl from the Coast The Girl from the Coast
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

Coming of age in feudal Java, where women are regarded as property, a young woman from a fishing village is given in marriage to a wealthy aristocrat, only to learn that she is to be discarded and separated from her children. By the author of The Mute's... (read more)

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All That Is Gone All That Is Gone
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

Pramoedya's semi-autobiographical stories deal with life's major themes: birth and death, sexual knowledge and love, compassion and revenge. This is the first time Pramoedya's short fiction has been widely available to the English reading public; its... (read more)

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Child of All Nations (90 Edition) Child of All Nations (90 Edition)
by Pramoedya A. Toer

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This Earth of Mankind (90 Edition)
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

This Earth of Mankind, the first novel in Pramoedya Ananta Toer's series known as the Buru Quartet, tells of the adventures of Minke, a young Javanese student living equally amongst the Dutch colonists and the colonized Javanese of late nineteenth... (read more)

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Fugitive Fugitive
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

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Footsteps Footsteps
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

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The Mute's Soliloquy: A Memoir
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

The author was exiled in 1965 by Indonesian authorities to the penal island of Buru, where he was imprisoned for 11 years. He not only survived under brutal conditions, but went on to write novels, essays and letters that comprise this moving memoir.... (read more)

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House of Glass House of Glass
by Pramoedya Anan Toer

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Sydney Morning Herald
May 16, 2006

Man of Letters and Revolution

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Novelist, 1925-2006

By Max Lane

IN THE days before Indonesia's greatest novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, died, text messages and emails had warned that he was seriously ill. Many readers gathered at his hospital bed and later his home where they sang songs of struggle or prayed.

I met Pramoedya in 1980 after reading his wonderful novel, This Earth of Mankind, which I was to later translate. It was the first of many meetings with an earthy, stubborn man who deeply loved Indonesia and the revolution that created it, its history, and its people.

He wrote more than 40 works, including novels, short stories, plays, history, literary criticism and more than 400 newspaper essays. He translated Gorky, Tolstoy and Steinbeck, among others. All this work was motivated by a love for humanity. He never tired of quoting from the great Dutch novelist, Multatuli: "It is the duty of human beings to become human."

Pramoedya was born in Blora, central Java, the eldest son of a headmaster and activist. Pramoedya, or Pram as he was more usually known, had just completed his education in Indonesia's second city, Surabaya, in 1942 when the Japanese invaded. Like many Indonesian nationalists who disliked the Dutch, he initially supported the occupation.

His attitude changed as Japanese brutality intensified, and he became increasingly nationalist. After the war, as the Dutch tried to reassert control over their former empire, Pramoedya took up arms in the resistance movement. He was detained for the first time in 1947, the year he wrote his first novel, The Fugitive.

Release came with the Dutch withdrawal in 1949 and he spent much of the 1950s travelling abroad, including Holland, the Soviet Union and China. His early works - novels, short stories and essays - were explorations of the many sides of humanity that are exposed in time of war and revolution. By the mid-1950s, when he began to understand that the ideals of the revolution - justice and prosperity - were not being realised, his stories turned to exposing the revolution's betrayal by corruption and elitism.

In the late 1950s, he started to travel down a path that made him unique in Indonesian culture and politics, and which paved the way for the six great historical novels setting out the crucial chapters in Indonesia's pre-history. He began a search for the origins of the blockages to the revolution in the archipelago's history, going back 1000 years.

He also discovered the origins of Indonesia's original radical energies in the confrontation between the ideals of humanism and Western hypocrisy and dictatorship - that is, colonialism - at the turn of the 20th century.

One story from a former student symbolises his respect for the people. Pramoedya lectured at a university in 1965 before he was arrested with about 100,000 other left-wing Indonesians in 1965 - perhaps more than half a million were murdered at the same time. The student's assignment was to interview a source about a prominent political figure. Instead, he interviewed a colleague of the political figure. Reprimanded and told to do the assignment again, he had to admit that Pramoedya's source turned out to be a much richer source of information - the political figure's barber.

In the late 1950s, as corruption and elitist contempt for the plight of the people strengthened, Pramoedya joined the tens of millions of Indonesians who supported President Soekarno's call for the nation to concentrate on finishing the revolution. Until his death, he remained a committed supporter of Soekarno, whom he considered able to unite Indonesia by ideas, not weapons.

Pramoedya plunged into the cultural struggle writing prolifically for the independent left-wing daily paper, Bintang Timor. He polemicised against what he saw as imported salon art, which ignored the struggle to complete the revolution, to bring ordinary people to power. But mostly, he wrote about history, about people whom he thought official history had forgotten or misunderstood.

He wrote about the 19th century feminist, Kartini, turn-of-the-century novelists, communist novelists and the first indigenous newspaper editor, Tirto Adhisuryo.

Pramoedya was jailed for a year in 1960 for writing a book defending the Chinese community against discrimination.

Pramoedya's open partisanship with Soekarno and the left saw him imprisoned when Soeharto took power in October 1965. He spent the next 14 years in jails, never charged and never tried.

He was shipped with thousands of others to Buru island, a sparsely inhabited island in eastern Indonesia. The trip to Buru and other experiences there are evocatively told in the collection of essays, A Mute's Soliloquy.

Books, pens and paper were banned for prisoners during the first several years on Buru. Men were killed for holding reading matter. The 14,000 prisoners had to build their own barracks and clear their own fields with their bare hands, and eat field mice - after deworming them.

Pramoedya had lost his immense library of archives, tapes and documents, and did not have even pen or paper. So he told and retold some of his stories, starting with that of Sanikem, the 14-year-old Javanese girl sold by her father to a Dutch businessman as a concubine. The girl overcomes this horror to stand above her Dutch kidnapper, a woman of great character, a successful business person and teacher of the ideals of the Enlightenment.

This story provided the framework for This Earth of Mankind, the first in a series of four novels inspired by the life and times of Tirto Adhisuryo, the man Pramoedya considered the pioneer of Indonesia's national awakening. The other novels, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass, are rich and humane, gripping and revolutionary, telling the story of how Indonesia and Indonesians came into being.

These great stories have resonated around the world. Penguin Books in Australia, under Brian Johns, took the risk in the 1980s of being the first major commercial publisher of these works, which have been translated into more than 50 languages.

The novels were published in Indonesia in the 1980s, almost immediately after Pramoedya and thousands of other political prisoners were released. In a stunning act of defiance, Pramoedya and fellow ex-political prisoners, Joesoef Isak and Hasyim Rachman, both journalists, established a publishing company, Hasta Mitra.

But Soeharto later banned the books, after each volume was published. They even banned anthologies of turn of the century short stories, because Pramoedya had edited them. Three student activists were given long prison sentences for selling the books from a folding table.

Even after Soeharto's fall, Pramoedya's books remain banned. Yet they are in all the bookshops and sold at every activist or public cultural event.

Neither Indonesia nor the world has yet fully appreciated his contribution. The four novels that began with This Earth of Mankind, now known as the Buru Quartet, represent a great literary achievement, while being just part of the series of six novels and one play that make up his fictional presentation of Indonesian history.

Pramoedya is survived by his second wife, Maemunah, with whom he had five children. He had three children from his first marriage, 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Max Lane is the translator of the Buru Quartet.

see also Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia's great novelist) website
Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Page


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