Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Toer : This Earth of Mankind

An incredible novel in so many ways --beginning with the circumstances of its creation: composed on Buru, an Indonesian prison island in the middle of the Banda Sea, where prisoners were forbidden to read or write.  The author wrote the book into memory, and recited it into a written text two years later.

Not surprising, then, that the story is so intense: a brave, brilliant, loving, entrepreneurial, creative,  high school student coming of age in Dutch run Surabaya, Java.  He has everything going for  him  except for ethnicity: he's pure bred Javanese - and therefore at the bottom of a highly stratified social order that has the native Dutch on top.  He's the only Javanese in his elite school.

A friend takes him to meet a pretty girl who helps manage a wealthy plantation -- and soon he's immersed in Gothic entanglements.  The girl's father is a Dutch planter who has lost his mind.  Her mother is that man's concubine whom he has educated and taught to run the business.

As a pure born native, the mother has no legal rights at all.  As a half-breed Dutch, her daughter has some social standing --and as a bright and  exceptionally beautiful young woman, our student, Minke, falls in love with her immediately.

But more than a tragic love story - this is the tragic story of Dutch colonialization that failed to integrate with native society.