I have at last finished reading Pramoedya's Earth of Mankind. In fact, I had finished reading it more than a week ago but had to put off writing about it due to the PRU12. And no, it was not that I was too busy during the period, but that my mind was very much preoccupied.
Wonderful book it is The Earth of Mankind, with intricate narration of life in early 20th Century in Java, the land of my ancestors. In many ways, whilst reading it, I found I could connect with Minke, the protagonist, and perhaps, even with Pramoedya himself. And were I a far flung descendant of a Javanese aristocrat, I might even find the book enchanting. But hang on, foremost here, I do have to thank our brother Mat Salo for loaning the book to me; thanks bro, I owe you one!
Since the book created a wave of some sort, I thought I might just as well put in my personal review. However, to do that would be most unfair to Bapak Pramoedya as the book I read was the English translation. Thus, the finely crafted words of the author could have been lost during the translation process. And I now find it a shame at not being able to read Bahasa Indonesia well enough for me to appreciate the artistry of Bapak Pramoedya literature. Still, I find the want to comment on 2 incidents in the novel which bears heavily on the story. I won't bore you with the intricate details but just on the surface.
The first incident was the moment when Nyai Ontosoroh became embittered against Mr Mellema, and how the 2 drifted apart, further than the distance between Java Island and Holland, the land where Mr Mellema came from. Nyai, though a concubine, had been treated with love, care and was given Dutch education by Mr Mellema himself. Nyai - who's spirit for living was almost non-existent ever since her own father 'sold' her to Mr Mellema as a concubine - found a new meaning in life and soon responded by becoming a willing partner in all matters concerning her and Mr Mellema, and even bore him 2 children.
The incident that tore them apart was when a Maurits Mellema appeared in their home and accused Mr Mellema of being an irresponsible father - Maurits, is Mr Mellema's legitimate son whom the latter left in the care of his wife in the Netherlands and never return. The unannounced meet caught Mr Mellema totally unprepared and his mind went kaput.
Nyai on the other hand, could not understand why the man she has come to love was unable to defend himself, and her, from the insults thrown; the much earlier betrayal by her own parents helped lay a course for Nyai to hate Mr Mellema almost instantly.
I somehow found that scene shocking as I had, by then, painted a rosy picture of the 2 in my mind; how could 2 lovers be embroiled in hatred on an issue that each could not understand, or as at least one of them - Mr Mellema - could no longer? But as the story unravels and reflecting on the past, I came to admire the strong will built into Nyai Onstosoroh. Mayhap, I could have even fallen in love with the character.
Now, the other incident which I would like to comment about is towards the later part of the book when Annelies, Nyai's daughter and Minke's wife by then, was forced by the Court of Law in the Netherlands, to be taken away from her family and the Island of Java, to a land which the Courts judged as her land - in the Netherlands! A land she has only heard and have never been to!
When I reached that part, I could not but remember a true life incident that took place within the same time frame of that century.
Sometime in 1937, a drama of equally epic proportion unfolded on the Indonesian Island of Java, where a Dutch girl of 5 grew up to become a subject of contention, and bloody feuds that unlike the novel, stretched up to 4 lands and 2 continents. Natrah was, and still is, a sad true tale of a tragic human life which the Courts of Law of a distant land who knows not - nor really cared - about the person and the trauma it would impose on her. The Dutch Court, bereft of a soul that could perhaps have put matters proper, tore Natrah from the conscious life she had known, and threw her into a land of totally alien culture and religious belief. But I cannot go on writing about her without feeling anger and sad about the whole affair. It would better for you to read it yourself here. Perhaps there scores more site of her tragic tale and scores more will be written in the future.
Back to Earth of Mankind, and as I mentioned earlier, I cannot help but draw parallel between Natrah and the book. Perhaps Natrah was, the inspiration for Bapak Pramoedya. But none the less, credits should not be taken away as the book, even as a translation it may be, had me glued for days on end as I snail-read through it. A truly marvelous story which must be read.
Now, will someone please tell me how to get hold of Bapak Pramoedya other titles?