THE MUTE’S SOLILOQUY

Pramoedya Ananta Toer 1999

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In his fi­nal years, Pramoedya (1925 – 2006) felt slighted to have been over­looked for the No­bel Lit­er­a­ture Prize. And rightly so. His fa­mous Buru Quar­tet is a mas­ter­piece of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. His own life was equally re­mark­able. He was jailed by the Dutch from 1947 to 1949 for his in­volve­ment in the In­done­sian rev­o­lu­tion. Dur­ing the Sukarno era, he emerged as the na­tion’s best nov­el­ist, but was jailed from 1960 to 1961 af­ter crit­i­cis­ing the gov­ern­ment for ne­glect­ing re­gions out­side Java. Fol­low­ing the 1965 “coup at­tempt”, which re­sulted in Suharto tak­ing power from Sukarno, Pramoedya was ar­rested and his books banned. He was jailed with­out trial from 1965 to 1979, mostly on re­mote Buru Is­land, where con­di­tions were bru­tal. He was then placed un­der house ar­rest in Jakarta un­til 1992 and banned from trav­el­ling abroad un­til 1999. His few sur­viv­ing es­says, let­ters and jour­nal en­tries from Buru form his mov­ing mem­oir, Nyanyi Sunyi Se­o­rang Bisu (The Mute’s Soliloquy), first pub­lished in Dutch in 1989, fol­lowed by an In­done­sian edi­tion ( banned) in 1995, then an English trans­la­tion in 1999. It’s an in­cred­i­ble record of in­tel­lec­tual sto­icism and hu­mil­ity amid cruel op­pres­sion.

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