Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) was a Javanese writer and activist, who grew up when his land was colonized as the Dutch East Indies.
Pramoedya ended up in Dutch prison during the revolutionary years (1947-49) and later in Suharto dictatorship prison from 1965-79, and later still under house arrest until 1992.
While imprisoned at the Buru Island penal colony, Pramoedya wrote the first book of what became a quartet, This Earth of Mankind.
Actually, it wasn’t “written” because it was illegal for prisoners to have any reading or writing materials. The story was told orally, and only later put to paper.
The book forcefully exposes the underbelly of imperialism and its vicious contradictions. Naturally, the book was banned in Indonesia because it rebels against unjust authority.
The book intricately deals with a coming of age story of a “native” Javanese boy in 1898, privileged to attend a Dutch school, so he has the language, manners, and intellect of the brightest European.
Hierarchy, racism, sexism, and colonialism conspire to make a plot that will keep you awake turning the pages. There is also lots of economics about trade and production.
Those from the developed world like to think that at least we make the world a better place through introducing the “rule of law.” Think again, after reading this.
This is a heart-wrenching book that is well worth every spin of the moral imagination. The writing is exquisite.