A Student Named Hijo has been recognized for depicting a new Indonesian youth culture that has adopted Western cultural and lingual facets. By contrasting traditional Javanese and Dutch cultural values, the author advocated a view that the two are incompatible. This includes love, described in the novel as something only those with
a Dutch education would attempt to find. Rejected for publication by Balai Pustaka, the Dutch controlled publishing house, the work is now considered a classic.
Drought is a celebration of life and human commitment. The hero decides to move to one of Indonesia’s outer islands, in a government-run program called “transmigration”, to start a new life as a farmer. His near-failed effort takes him to meet various inspired madmen—bureaucrats, bandits, psychiatrists, religious teachers, and a beautiful woman known only as the V.I.P. The combination of these characters will make us question what is considered “normal” in a conventional society. The book is a lyrical testimony of the strength and unpredictability of human character.
Siti Nurbaya by Marah Rusli is a classic novel that remains poignant even today. When it was first published, the novel made great impact on the region which was then known as the Dutch East Indies. But the novel stays relevant; the injustice experienced by key female characters in the novel is still a controversial topic in today’s Indonesia. Rich in descriptions, dense with foreboding, and filled with the inexorable workings of fate, Siti Nurbaya is much more than Samsu and Siti Nurbaya’s ill-fated love story. Siti Nurbaya documents the conflict between the dreams of a younger generation and stifling traditions. First published in 1928, Siti Nurbaya is still in print today and has been translated into several languages. HB Jassin, the prominent Indonesian literary critic, named Marah Rusli the first Indonesian modern novelist.
Kidnapped from Java, five year-old Mirah is taken to the Banda islands. Mirah of Banda reads like a personal account: from her life in a nutmeg plantation during the Dutch colonial era, the Japanese occupation, and the Indonesian revolution era. Mirah’s story is told to an Australian who visits the family Mirah works for as a cook and her myriad experiences include her life as a contracted nutmeg picker and the plantation owner’s concubine. The fate of her daughter Lili, when she is taken away to become a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers, is even more heartbreaking.
Morphology of Desire gives a generous introduction to the full range of writing by the internationally acclaimed Indonesian poet, Dorothea Rosa Herliany. The poems span the 1980s to the present day and though a distinctive mix of striking imagery and boldness of voice, the poet sets out to destroy many common assumptions about everyday life and human relationships. As a woman and a poet, she is doubtly an outsider. Her blatant departure, in form as well as content, from the accepted conventions of society (which intensifies through the progression of her work) is remarkable, not only in its personal and political ramifications, but in its emotional and imaginative tenor as well.
The novel Salah Asuhan, translated here as Never the Twain, is among the most popular works of modern Indonesian fiction. First published in 1928, the book is still in print today. Hanafi, the novel’s protagonist, is madly in love with Corrie du Bussee, a beautiful Eurasian, though he has long been betrothed, to his cousin, Rapiah. Which woman should Hanafi marry: Corrie, the feisty, liberated Western woman, or the simple hearted Rapiah? The conflict Hanafi faces serves as an allegory for pre-independent Indonesia as it struggled toward national identity. Which course was the emerging nation to take? Was it to adhere to traditional values or was it to adopt Western notions of progress and modernity when, in doing so, might lead to the creation ofa race of people who were neither Eastern nor Western?
Dr. Sukartono and his independent-minded wife, Tini, are facing marital problems when Rohaya the singer enters their life. Unlike Tini, who refuses to play the role of self-sacrificing wife, Rohaya is ready to become the devoted wife to Sukartono. On the surface, Shackles dissects the old romantic trope: the love triangle. But Shackles also illustrates the confusion experienced by many Indonesians of the pre-independence generation; they struggle to overcome problems stemming from their tradition-bound society, but in the end they realize that by changing into a new type of person that is neither Eastern nor Western, the situation might grow worse.
As the New Order government became increasingly authoritarian, there was a clear shift in playwriting style from allegorical fairytales of wordplay, humor and oblique reference to a more direct engagement, interrogation, and call to arms. All in all, Indonesian drama during the New Order provides a fascinating window into a society caught between the legacy of tradition, the challenge of repression, and a strong desire for democratization.
The novel details the crushing 19th century Dutch colonial system of “Forced Cultivation”, and the particular cruelty that pretty Javanese peasant women had to endure; they were little more than chattel, sometimes cherished, other times useful tools, to be passed from Dutch barons to Chinese middlemen to local elites. Written in Malay, Mukti’s book is one of the first novels written by an Indonesian in opposition to colonial authority. In 2013, the book’s translator, the late Catherine Manning Muir, received a “Best Translation Award” in Australia.(William Gibson in http://www.popmatters.com/tools/print/189981/)
Arrested as a leftist-activist in 1966, Putu Oka Sukanta was imprisoned until 1976. In The Starling, he speaks of the terrible degradation of humanity and the inner strength and solidarity of comradeship which emerge in the extreme conditions of imprisonment. The poems go on to explore the painful steps in the reconstruction of life and social meaning after the prison gates have opened.