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Pramoedya Ananta Toer: Perburuan (The Fugitive)

Toer’s novel tells the story of the last day of World War II in Indonesia and the various betrayals and political machinations that were going on. Hardo, the hero, had been in the Japanese military, presumably to fight against the colonial Dutch. However, when the Japanese had taken over the country, he had left the military to fight against the Japanese occupation. Other friends had joined him. The Japanese had squashed the rebellion but Hardo and his friend Dilpo had managed to escape, despite huge numbers of people searching for him (including his parents, who were forced to do so by the Japanese). One of his friends, Karmin, had betrayed them and rejoined the Japanese, primarily, as we learn, because his fiancée had left him and he felt no purpose in life anymore. Hardo had been engaged to Ningsih and she has remained faithful to him.

The novel starts with the circumcision ceremony of Ramli, Ningsih’s brother. A group of beggars is hanging out near the ceremony, in the hope of getting some food. When they finally get their food, they disperse, leaving only one behind. We soon learn that this is Hardo, returning to his home town. Ningsih’s father takes a walk and is accosted by Hardo but Hardo declines all offers of help and is only interested in learning what has become of Ningsih. However her father only gives vague indications of what she is now doing. However, the old man tells Hardo that he (the old man) has now become head of the village, replacing Hardo’s father. Hardo then leaves and goes to shelter in a hut. He hears a chase and an old man soon joins him the hut. It is his father. Hardo pretends not to be Hardo but, though it is too dark to see, the father soon realises that it is his son, despite Hardo’s persistent denials. When soldiers come to the hut, presumably looking for Hardo, Hardo quickly disappears and the old man denies having seen him. However, he is arrested, to be held hostage till Hardo is caught.

We follow Hardo, who again evades capture, and his meeting with Dilpo, also disguised as a beggar. The Japanese, probably suspecting that the war is coming to a close, are being more ruthless and Karmin is sent to arrest Ningsih. However, as he is in love with her, he tells her that he will protect her from the Japanese and explains to her why he betrayed the cause. Eventually, however, Hardo and Dilpo are caught by the Japanese but, as they are caught, we learn that Japan has surrendered. What should be a time for joy but also a certain amount of retribution does not, however, turn out too well.

Toer tells his story well. We see Hardo both from the outside and from what he is thinking about his role. It is clear that his days are numbered and that the end of the war is the only thing that can save him. But the story is also about betrayal and loyalty and is clearly, in part, autobiographical. Toer wrote this novel while imprisoned by the Dutch after the war and Hardo’s father is obviously based on Toer’s father, a rich man, gone to ruin because of gambling. Karmin is the most interesting character, a man who betrayed his cause because of his unhappiness in love and who has come to realize that what he has done is terribly wrong. Hardo himself, despite the righteousness of his cause, comes across as too ascetic (as far as we can see he does not eat at all!). It is relatively short but still a fascinating tale from Indonesia’s greater writer.

Publishing history

First published 1950 by Balai Pustaka
First published in English 1975 by Heinemann
Translated by John H McGlynn