The Mute's Soliloquy

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Author, Willem Samuels, Translator Hyperion Books $31 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6416-4
Only its fragmentary structure (for which there is good reason) will keep Pramoedya's memoir from being ranked with Eugenia Ginzburg's Journey into the Whirlwind among the great documents by 20th-century political prisoners. Written on Buru Island penal colony, where Pramoedya spent 14 years doing forced labor (1965-79), the book is the great Indonesian novelist's first work of nonfiction to be published abroad. Pramoedya relates the horrors of the bloodbath in which the Suharto military regime murdered a million innocent people and imprisoned a million more following the overthrow of President Sukarno. Beaten so badly at the time of his arrest that he remains nearly deaf today, held incommunicado from his wife and children with no trial and no formal charges levied against him, Pramoedya managed to smuggle out of prison these notes, essays and letters. ""These are personal notes, nothing more. There is no grand plan here,"" Pramoedya writes in a foreword. Together, these writings constitute a rough-hewn autobiography composed with astonishing equanimity and punctuated by passages of acute lyricism. Pramoedya traces the influence of his self-sacrificing mother and his father, a nationalist revolutionary; frankly discusses his tumultuous first marriage and happy second marriage; relives the travails of Japan's occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945); and muses on death, religion, politics and caste oppression. His closing ""Table of the Dead and Missing,"" a detailed listing of the victims of Buru Island, stands, like the book itself, as a monument to the struggle for human rights. In a fetid prison designed to strip him of his humanity, Pramoedya found his true literary voice, producing several novels, including the epic Buru Quartet, and one drama. That resilient voice, humane and observant, demands to be heard. (Apr.) FYI: The Mute's Soliloquy, as well as The Dragon Hunt by Tran Vu, marks the launch of Hyperion East.
Reviewed on: 04/26/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 375 pages - 978-0-14-028904-6
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