Marah Rusli was born in Padang, West Sumatra, on August 7, 1889. The only child of a civil service district head in West Sumatra, he was educated at a Dutch-medium school in Padang and thereafter at the influential Raja’s School in Bukittinggi. Upon graduation in 1910, he entered the government-run Veterinary School and, after graduation, commenced his lifelong career in veterinary service. During his time of services as a government veterinarian, he had postings in Sumbawa and throughout Java.
In 1911, Marah Rusli married a woman from Bogor, West Java, Nyai Raden Ratna Kecana Wati. Although this marriage was against his parents’ wishes, it proved to be a happy and lasting one that produced three children.
In his role as a writer, in 1926 Marah Rusli co-authored the first report on Lepora bubalorum, a form of leprosy in water buffalo found only in Indonesia but it is for his fictional work that he is well known. In addition to Sitti Nurbaya, he also wrote two other works of fiction, but neither of these is generally considered an equal toSitti Nurbaya: A Love Unrealized. First published in 1928, Sitti Nurabaya is still in print today and has been translated into several foreign languages.
In the history of Indonesian literature, H.B. Jassin, the preeminent Indonesian literary critic, named Marah Rusli the first modern Indonensian novelist. Marah Rusli died in Bandung in 1968. In 1969 he was posthumously named as recipient of a special literary award by the government of Indonesia.