Past in Perspective
“I do not write to give joy to readers but to
give them a conscience.”
— Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the greatest Indonesian writer of all times, was born on February 6, 1925, in Blora. Pram, as he was widely known, joined the anti-colonial struggle against Japan during World War II and later enlisted in an army to fight Dutch colonialists. The Dutch authorities jailed him for his political convictions and actions in 1947. It was during his years in incarceration that he began writing a novel “The Fugitive”. The novel is one of his best works and some critics compare him for “The Fugitive” with Albert Camus of “The Stranger”.
Pram spent most of his adult life in jail, imprisoned first by colonial powers and later by successive Indonesian governments. However, the most difficult days were yet to be started. And these days did come, as a military dictator, Suharto overthrew Soekarno’s nationalist government. Pram too was jailed on the remote islands of Buru. There, he used to tell stories to his fellow prisoners to keep their morale high. These stories proved instrumental in his much-celebrated work the Buru Quartet, which investigated the birth of nationalism in Indonesia.
Pram died in Jakarta on April 30, 2006, at age 81. Though some of his books are still banned in Indonesia, authors like Eka Kurniawan and Itan Paramaditha are redefining the horizon of Indonesian literature under the influence of Toer. It can be said that Pram laid the foundations of modern Indonesian literature.