Indonesia’s lost history

345d069a-ca71-11e5_1208778hTash Aw at The Times Literary Supplement:

For over half a century, Indonesian literature has lived under twin shadows: that of the great writer and activist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006 aged eighty-one; and of the bloody events of 1965, which marked the end of the reign of Sukarno – the nation’s Communist-leaning first President – and the start of Suharto’s thirty-one-year New Order regime, during which all official discussion of the events was suppressed. The decades-long silence surrounding 1965 – during which up to a million suspected communist sympathizers were subjected to brutal torture and summary executions – was always tested by writers and journalists, even during the most repressive moments of the Suharto censorship campaign, but its general absence from school textbooks and official discourse has created an enduring problem for the writers currently at the forefront of Indonesian literature: how to reclaim the stories of a missing, epoch-defining era and reconstruct a new understanding of their country.

For authors such as Chudori who are now reconstructing this lost history there is a further complication: that of Pramoedya’s immense legacy. Jailed firstly by the Dutch colonial administration for his pro-Independence writings, and then by the Suharto regime for his unwavering leftist, pro-Sukarno stance, Pramoedya represents both an inspiration and a unique challenge to all Indonesian writers who follow in his footsteps. His monumental body of works – including the famous “Buru” quartet, written while he was imprisoned on the notorious island that gave the novels their nickname – seemed to mirror the size and scope of the largest and most populous country in the region: a vast archipelago boasting a culture, history and size surpassed only by China and India on the Asian continent but a past whose titanic – and relatively recent – political struggles have remained curiously invisible to the world’s gaze.

more here.