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Pramoedya Ananta Toer (above) received the Magsaysay Award (Southeast Asia’s highest literary award) in 1995. He received France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et de Lettres award in 1998. His other widely translated works include The Fugitive, The Buru Quartet, The Mute’s Soliloquy, and The Girl from the Coast. At right, the book cover. (Photo/Terri Gold)
From The Asian Reporter, V14, #51 (December 14, 2004), page 13.
What has gone, before us
All That Is Gone: Stories
By Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Translated from Bahasa Indonesian to English by Willem Samuels
Hardcover, 255 pages, $23.95
There are lucky peoples big and small, there are fortunate nations rich and poor that can look up to home-grown masters of recollection, of vision, of telling their treasured stories. Memory means little without possessing the big picture; panoramic views are nothing without the language, grand and delicate, to tell us all about it.
All three masteries were embodied by Chilean Pablo Naruda, all three reside in Russia’s Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and in Indonesia’s Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Lucky peoples, rich nations.
The works of 79-year-old Indonesian writer Pramoedya Toer, also known as Master Pram, only recently become available to readers in English as well as to readers in his own homeland. Master Pram’s "poisonous" words got him imprisoned by several successive governments beginning with Dutch East Indies colonial bosses back in the turbulent ’40s. Newly independent Indonesia’s demagogues sent him to 14 years of forced labor on infamous Buru Island. Reformist President Philip Habibe brought him home a few years ago, placing him under house arrest. Those orders are routinely ignored even by the young soldiers on guard, boys Master Pram regards as his grandchildren.
Pramoedya Toer, also known as Political Detainee No. 641, has had published over 30 works of his fiction in over 30 languages. He figures more of his writing has been destroyed by local cops and national security thugs than actually made print. Among all the things gone, Master Pram does not count his old friend and translator Willem Samuels, and his ancient wife Maimoenah Thamrin. Mr. Samuels provides the muscular and supple interpretation of endlessly suggestive "Indonesian" into the relatively rigid English language.
All That Is Gone is a collection of short stories, no doubt autobiographical, written as first-person recollections of a little Javan boy, then an inquiring teen, then an excited young man, living through the inevitable excesses inherent in nation-building. Every national community, sometimes carefully and other times brutally, needs this period of declaring what values and which heroes are counted in, or out. Often, governments and the governed disagree.
In his forward to a story titled "Revenge," Master Pram writes "This is a true story, a story about the faint-heartedness of an individual, that individual being myself. It is a simple tale — yes, with as much simplicity as a tattered cloth or a dead cat in the middle of the road — and, very likely, one that should not be told. But it is a series of incidents that together form the first milestone of my life."
A tattered cloth is a story. No flat cat is without a tale. And this man is a living milestone, chronicling like John Steinbeck, hurting like James Baldwin, sorting it all out like Albert Camus counting toes at the end of an existential minefield. Giants, all. So necessary for understanding who we are and where we want to go — none of that knowable without getting all that is gone.
All that notwithstanding, possession of Pramoedya’s books is punishable by a stiff sentence in an Indonesian prison, for sedition.