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Pramoedya Ananta Toer: Anak semua bangsa (Child of All Nations)

This novel follows on from where Bumi manusia (This Earth of Mankind) left off. Minke, our hero/narrator, has lost his wife who has forcibly been taken off to the Netherlands. He and his mother-in-law get reports from a friend who travelled on the same ship. Annelies will not eat, becomes sick and eventually dies. Back in Indonesia, Toer continues his story with more of the horrors of colonialism. Minke continues to write for the newspaper but it is only well into the book that he discovers that the newspaper is owned by the sugar interests. He writes a story about a poor farmer who is forced to sell his land cheaply to the sugar interests and who, because he is illiterate, is cheated out of the limited money he is offered. Even when the story is turned down, he does not realise, till told by a friend, what the true story is.

Much of the book consists of stories of the cruelty of the Dutch colonial masters. For example, a foreman at the sugar plant is obliged to give his eldest daughter as a concubine to the Dutch overseer. When the foreman drags his feet, he is implicated in a financial scandal and the only way out is to hand over his daughter. She deliberately gets infected with smallpox by spending time in a smallpox-infected village, sleeps with the overseer, thereby infecting him, and both die. Another story concerns a Chinese illegal immigrant who wishes to persuade his fellow Chinese (there was a large Chinese population in Indonesia) to modernise their ways, including giving up their pigtails and accepting some European ideas. He is attacked and criticised both by his own people and by the Dutch authorities and finds support only with Minke and Nyai, his mother-in-law, but is eventually murdered by the Tong gangs.

Toer does not hold back in his criticism of the Dutch and their supporters with Minke clearly looking to Asia as a model, first to Japan and then to the Philippines, which has managed to throw off the Spanish colonial yoke. There is some personal story too with the hovering threat of the Mellema family coming to claim their property which finally happens when Maurits Mellema, now a successful civil engineer, arrives at the end. The story of Minke’s various enemies, including his brother-in-law Robert Mellema and his former schoolfriend, who had introduced him to Annelies, Robert Suurhof, is also told, as is the tale of Minem, the servant girl who may well have been Robert Mellema’s lover but now has set her eyes on Minke. But he is pure in heart and carries out his ambition to know his country and its people and to defend it. Toer lets loose and there is no respite for the Dutch and their cruel ways, as his own people try to assert their rights.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Hasta Mitra
First published in English 1982 by Penguin