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Pramoedya Ananta Toer: Jejak Langkah (Footsteps)

The third novel in the Buru Quartet sees Minke off to Betawi (Batavia, now Djakarta) to study medicine. On arrival at the medical school he is subject to immediate bullying but manages to fend for himself. He immediately gets involved with the local intelligentsia and is invited to a meeting – the only native there – at which a visiting Dutch MP show sympathy to the cause of the native population, though others do not. He also gets involved with and then marries Ang San Mei, a Chinese woman who knew his Chinese friend, who was murdered by the Tong in the previous novel in the series. Their marriage is generally good but she seems to spend too much time working to help the Chinese community (behind his back) and eventually wears herself out and dies. Indeed, when he tries to help her, by issuing a prescription he is not allowed to write, as he has not yet qualified as a doctor, he loses his place at medical school.

The main focus of this novel is about Minke’s struggles to help his people free themselves from the Dutch, not by armed struggle, but by political activism. He had already been working towards this end and comes to the attention of the political authorities, to the extent he is invited to meet the new Governor General, the much hated Van Heutsz who had beaten the Aceh, with considerable slaughter. Van Heutsz continues his conquest, with the brutal conquest of Bali. Minke is sympathetic to the Balinese and helps local military units who refuse to join in the fight. Meanwhile Minke has help set up two organisations of native peoples, the first, a failure, having focused on the priyayi and the second having been co-opted by the Dutch authorities. However, he does set up a successful newspaper for the natives, which offers aid and local news and is very well received. The Dutch try to stop it, e.g. by refusing to sell it paper, but Minke survives. Meanwhile, Nyai, the mother of his first wife, marries his French friend, Jean Marais, and they move to France. Minke proposes to Marais’ daughter beforehand but she says she needs time to think about it and accompanies her father and stepmother to France.

Minke then sets up a new organisation, based on the traders in the country, called the Islamic Traders Organisation, which seems to have more success. One of the themes in the book is how the other colonised powers and other Asian countries are struggling against imperialism, with Japan considered a model to some degree, though Minke and other Indonesians are not unaware of its dangers. However, they were impressed with Japan’s success against the major imperialist power of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Internally, however, it is a different matter. The Chinese seem to be taking over much of the trading and this causes some concern and is one of the reason for the creation of the Islamic Traders Organisation. The organisation also gets opposition from the Indos (the mixed blood native and European people) and they form various groups to try to destroy the Islamic Traders Organisation and also to attack Minke and his paper. He has bodyguards but when he is attacked by a group called The Whips, he is badly hurt. Meanwhile, he meets a Javanese princess who has been exiled and ends up marrying her. Though their marriage is far from perfect, she does help him by running a women’s magazine and by proving very adapt with a gun.

Eventually he does run into serious opposition from the authorities, now that Van Heutsz has moved on, and the book ends with his facing serious troubles, to be continued in the next book in the tetralogy. Much more than the two previous books, this book concentrates on the setting up and running of a political organisation which, though not explicitly spelled out, is likely to lead to an independence movement. Some of it gets involved in the local minutiae but much of it is a fascinating account of the struggles Minke and his colleagues faced, both from the colonial power but also from internal forces.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by Hasta Mitra
First published in English 1990 by Penguin