Youngsters take on a tin giant
The Rainbow Troops
By Andrea Hirata Translated by Angie Kilbane Vintage Australia, 304pp, $32.95
INDONESIAN writer Andrea Hirata’s autobiographical first novel, Laskar Pelangi, about a group of dirt-poor schoolkids and their fight against the corporate ravages of tin mining interests on their tiny island of Belitung, took his country by storm when it was published in 2005.
Since then there has been a hit film adaptation made by star producer Mira Lesmana, a TV series, a musical (also written by Lesmana), three sequel novels, additional tourist flights put on by the national carrier Garuda to the picturesque island in response to the tale’s popularity, and a free school set up by Hirata for children whose families can’t afford to give them an education.
Now comes an English translation of Indonesia’s biggest-selling novel: five million copies officially, and probably many millions more sold with no profits for the royalty holders thanks to the country’s lack of adequate copyright law enforcement.
Called The Rainbow Troops and translated by American Angie Kilbane in consultation with Hirata, it’s a largely faithful rendering of the original. Some of Hirata’s more detailed passages have been distilled into simpler language but other, more intractable hurdles of translation provide interesting challenges.
For instance, referring to the state-owned tin company whose activities dominate the lives of the novel’s children and their families as simply PN Timah (literally, state-owned tin company) could not possibly have had quite the same resonance in English as it does in the Indonesian language, where the long history of intersections between state and corporate interests on the one hand, and villagers with little influence over their future on the other, carries actual linguistic weight.
The colonial experience of the Dutch East Indies is bound up intricately in the extraction of valuable natural resources using local — usually exploited — labour. With the Indies’ post-war transition to an independent Indonesia came the nationalisation of many of these