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Child of All Nations

de Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Altres autors: Mira la secció altres autors.

Sèrie: The Buru Quartet (2)

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In Child of All Nations, the reader is immediately swept up by a story that is profoundly feminist, devastatingly anticolonialist--and full of heartbreak, suspense, love, and fury. Pramoedya immerses the reader in a world that is astonishing in its vividness: the cultural whirlpool that was the Dutch East Indies of the 1890s. A story of awakening, it follows Minke, the main character of This Earth of Mankind, as he struggles to overcome the injustice all around him. Pramoedya's full literary genius is evident in the brilliant characters that populate this world: Minke's fragile Mixed-Race wife; a young Chinese revolutionary; an embattled Javanese peasant and his impoverished family; the French painter Jean Marais, to name just a few.… (més)
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Child of all Nations (Anak Semua Bangsa) is the second in the Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet, so called because it was conceived on the island of Buru— where he was imprisoned without trial in 1965 when the military dictatorship of President Suharto cracked down on anyone suspected of communist sympathies. Access to books and writing materials were prohibited in the prison, but Pramoedya narrated his novels to his fellow-prisoners, and was finally able to write them down in 1975. Child of All Nations was finally first published in 1979 in Jakarta, and was translated (along with the rest of the Quartet) into English in 1982 by a courageous Australian staffer called Max Lane, (who was promptly recalled because of Indonesian displeasure at having these novels disseminated to the international community, you can read his story here).
Impressive as Max Lane’s mammoth contribution was, IMO it’s high time there was a new less clunky translation. In the 2012 interview at Asymptote about whether he was able to retain the literary qualities of the original, Lane says that his focus was on retaining the ‘foreignness’ of the original, and that he expected the reader to do some work of interpretation and digestion of language.
Thus I kept quite a few terms in Indonesian, leaving them in italics. I do notice that in later editions the publisher has removed the italics for many words. Why make familiar something which should not be familiar? Late 19th century Java in the Netherlands Indies should not appear so familiar to a later 20th century reader. In many cases, however, the examples are mainly minor in reality.
I am not suggesting for a moment that this approach was wrong, and I like what he says about his translation work as the translation of ideology and perspective, not just text. No, for me, it is what he concedes about issues also in sentence structure and tenses that deserves a new translation, and I don’t say that as a grammarian, but merely as a reader who expects language to flow whether in translation or not. For example:
He was afraid. And his body could not carry his longing to be away from this frightening place. There was only one thing that proved he was still alive: the never-subsiding shout in his heart—live, live, I must live, live live!
and on the same page:
Paiman wanted very much to ask for help, but even his tongue would not work for him. (p.122)
The book also merits an update on the publisher’s introduction, which retains its long out-of-date information from 1996 i.e. that Pramoedya (who lived out his last years in Australia and died in 2006) is currently under city arrest in Jakarta where his books are banned. It’s now over 20 years since the Fall of Suharto and Indonesia is a functioning democracy, not a dictatorship. A writer of Pramoedya’s stature, Indonesia’s most prominent author and contender for the Nobel Prize, deserves better…
Child of All Nations continues the story of Minke’s political awakening in Indonesia’s colonial era as depicted in This Earth of Mankind, and this book is one where I think it’s best to read its predecessor in the series first. There is a large cast of characters, most of whom featured in Book #1, and it might be hard to follow events if you haven’t read This Earth of Mankind first. (See my review).
To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2019/03/06/child-of-all-nations-the-buru-quartet-2-by-p... ( )
  anzlitlovers | Mar 6, 2019 |
This is the second volume in the so-called Buru Quartet and it finds young Minke living at the home of his mother-in-law, the remarkable Nyai Ontosoroh, and attempting to pursue a career as a writer/journalist. Like the first volume, it presents a vivid and at times melodramatic portrait of the evils of colonialism and racism, and goes further in this one to also explore the nature of capitalism. Minke is aware that he has much to learn, and in fact is often bemused by what he didn't learn in school, as he still leans towards thinking the "Natives" have a lot to learn from the Europeans (or "Pures"). In many respects, he seems quite naive.

Minke has many "teachers," and the novel often becomes quite didactic as the various journalists, peasants, and revolutionaries (although he doesn't recognize them as such) essentially preach to him. He often comments that these seem like "speeches" or "pamphlets," and indeed they seem that way to the reader too. It is difficult to know whether the author meant them to seem this way, or if he thought that including these more didactic sections was central to the novel.

Many of the characters from the first volume appear in this one too, and much of the plot is a continuation of the stories and conflicts that began there. Aside from that, Minke and Nyai go on a vacation in which Minke is exposed to the exploitation of the peasants by the sugar factories, and Minke encounters a Chinese revolutionary who meets a sorry end and learns about the revolt against Spanish rule in the Philippines that led to the US taking over the colonial role.

When I read the more preachy parts of these two novels, I roll my eyes, get a little bored, and think I won't read the rest of the quartet. But when I get to the parts of the novels where people interact with each other and the plot develops (yet, it still makes the same points about colonialism and racism), I get more caught up in it. Although I clearly have mixed feelings, I probably will eventually read the other two volumes of this quartet.
2 vota rebeccanyc | Jun 30, 2013 |
* SPOILER ALERT *

In part two of his Buru Quartet, Indonesia’s most famous writer continues the story of the aristocratic native young journalist Minke and his circle. Annelies, his wife, dies far away in Huizen in the Netherlands at the start of the book. This does not make Minke’s ties to his mother-in-law Nyai Ontosoroh any weaker. With her business acumen and resolute character and anti-colonial ideas, the rich native Javanese former concubine remains the most Western character in the book. Her opinion about the

As a journalist, Minke writes in Dutch, although various people try to convince him to use Malay and Javanese. But Minke sees a better future in Dutch. At the office in Surabaya Minke meets the Chinese radical Khouw Ah Soe who looks for support for justice and regime change in Qing dynasty China. Minke is quite impressed by the man, and is disappointed when his article about him is replaced by a very negative one from his Dutch boss.

Minke then makes a trip to Sidoarjo in the east Javanese countryside to learn more about the life of his poorer countrymen. Their situation shocks him, and convinces him to do something for them through his writing. Far away from the city, the relationship between native middle class and the Dutch upper class is pretty asymmetric, as is shown by the faith of Surati. After the Dutch manager of a sugar factory falsely accuses her accountant father of theft (which he had committed himself). The manager presses her father to give Surati as his concubine. Surati deliberately contracts smallpox to kill herself and her boss, but only he dies.

When Minke picks up one of the sugar cane farmers from Sidoarjo to house him and his family in Surabaya after he is forced off his land, Minke decides it is time for a trip, which Pak Pram uses to paint another bleak picture of poverty in the Javanese countryside. On the boat he meets Ter Haar, a Dutch journalist full of socialist ideas. He also teaches Minke about Jose Rizal, who led a revolution in the Philippines.

The scene now switches to the land of the Nyai, where one of the farm girls claims to be pregnant of Robert Mellema, the Nyai’s son. Robert himself had died after hiding in the Chinese brothel next door, where he had contracted a venereal disease from the Japanese prostitute Maiko that would kill him. The brothel owner had hoped to get hold of the Nyai’s business via this useless son. Earlier we had learned about plans of the colonial government to upgrade the status of Japanese citizens from “foreign Orientals” to equal to Dutchmen at the request of the Japanese government. The locals see Japanese citizens more as simple tradesmen and prostitutes. Minke had earlier shown an interest in Japan’s development into an equal of the European powers. Minem, the farm girl, would soon leave her child with the Nyai to go and live with a Dutchman.

Then Maurits Mellema, the Nyai’s husband’s legal wife’s son and a former fighter for the Boers in South Africa, to give up the business the Nyai had worked so hard to build appears on the scene. The racist Maurits Mellema had brought two marines to claim the business assigned to him by the court in the first novel of the quartet.. Minke’s rationally schooled mind cannot understand the situation. But they fight back.

Again, this is not a novel of great character development, but Pak Pram cleverly uses his storyline for an interesting look at colonial society at the start of the 20th century. It paints quite well the various, often Western, interaction and influences at the foundation of Indonesian nationalism, as well as the Verelendung in the Javanese countryside. ( )
  mercure | Nov 15, 2011 |
the story of Surati, Nyai's niece, who was to be made mistress to the Tuan Besar Kepala, the resident manager of the sugar factory. ( )
  azizah | Aug 3, 2009 |
From the Introduction:

'We fought back, Child, as well and as honorably as possible.'

These were the words that ended Pramoedya Ananta Toer's novel This Earth of Mankind, the first in a quartet of which Child of All Nations is the second. This Earth of Mankind was indeed a story of people fighting back, of resisting the worst of colonial oppression and greed.

It was also a gripping story of remarkable characters caught in the cultural whirlpool that was the Dutch East Indies of the 1890s. Because Pramoedya's vision extends far beyond parochial politics to reach for more universal human concerns, it is a bitter irony that, in 1965, he was arrested by Suharto's junta, and his entire library, including research and notes assembled over many years, were burned to ashes. He was jailed, without trial, for fourteen years. Denied access to writing materials, he kept his literary vision alive by recounting his stories to other prisoners. Only in 1975 was he permitted the facilities to commit his novels from memory to paper.

----

Stories about happy things are never interesting. They are not stories about people and their lives, but about heaven, and clearly do not take place on this earth of ours.

The above quote was from the first book of the Buru Quartet and the second book just reinforces that Toer does not believe in happy endings, happy beginnings, or happy in-betweens. But then when writing about colonialism from the oppressed point of view, what can one expect? Certainly no book about heaven.

'Life is a matter of balance, Mr Minke. A person who concerns himself only with the light side of things is a madman, but someone who is interested only in suffering is sick.'

In this book the story continues where This Earth of Mankind ended. And if that ending was heartbreaking, the beginning of this book totally destroys any heart you may have left. Minke, a Dutch educated Javanese writer continues getting abused, cheated, and punished by the people that taught him, the people he admired, the Europeans.

Toer's simple prose and knowledge of Indonesian history puts you smack-dab in the middle of the conflict and it is truly a frightening place to be.

Europeans wearing pigtails! Even the Americans, during their revolution! During France's period of triumph and glory, they not only copied the pigtail but also the habit of eating frogs, which the rest of humanity looked upon as degrading... The pigtail in China was a symbol of triumph, at one time, during one era. In China people used to eat frogs because of their poverty; in Europe it was a part of grandeur. So topsy-turvy is history.

-----

It was not only from Europe that so much could be learned! This modern age had provided many breasts to suckle me - from among the Natives themselves, from Japan, China, America, India, Arabia, from all the peoples on the face of this earth... In humility, I realized I am a child of all nations, of all ages, past and present. Place and time of birth, parents, all are coincidence: such things are not sacred.

-----

The interesting thing was that the behavior of a middle-aged man who had fallen in love was no different from that of a teenager. Both turned into heroic exhibitionists, out to get everyone's attention. No matter how clever a man is, if he's been smitten he becomes as stupid as the greatest idiot. ( )
  Banoo | Feb 28, 2009 |
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In Child of All Nations, the reader is immediately swept up by a story that is profoundly feminist, devastatingly anticolonialist--and full of heartbreak, suspense, love, and fury. Pramoedya immerses the reader in a world that is astonishing in its vividness: the cultural whirlpool that was the Dutch East Indies of the 1890s. A story of awakening, it follows Minke, the main character of This Earth of Mankind, as he struggles to overcome the injustice all around him. Pramoedya's full literary genius is evident in the brilliant characters that populate this world: Minke's fragile Mixed-Race wife; a young Chinese revolutionary; an embattled Javanese peasant and his impoverished family; the French painter Jean Marais, to name just a few.

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