Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer is widely regarded as one of Indonesia’s best writers. At a young age, he joined the anti-colonial struggle against Japan during World War II and later enlisted in an army to fight Dutch colonialists. He was captured and jailed by the Dutch in 1947. His foray into writing began in prison, at age 24. Perburuan (1950), his first novel, came out during his two years of incarceration. Pramoedya or “Pram”—a hero of Indonesia’s anti-colonial movement and a champion of human rights and freedom of speech—was born on February 6, 1925, in the poor Javanese town of Blora.

After Indonesian independence was recognized by the Netherlands in 1949, Pramoedya produced a stream of novels and short stories that established his reputation; Keluarga Gerilja (1950), Mereka jang Dilumpuhkan (1951), Subuh (1950), Pertjikan Revolusi (1950), Tjerita dari Blora (1952), and Tjerita dari Djakarta (1957). In these early works Pramoedya evolved a rich prose style that incorporated Javanese everyday speech and images from classical Javanese culture.

During his imprisonment in Sukarno’s regime, he wrote a series of four historical novels that further enhanced his reputation. Two of these, Bumi Manusia (1980) and Anak Semua Bangsa (1980), met with great critical and popular acclaim in Indonesia after their publication, but the government subsequently banned them from circulation, and the last two volumes of the tetralogy, Jejak Langkah (1985) and Rumah Kaca (1988), had to be published abroad. These late works comprehensively depict Javanese society under Dutch colonial rule in the early 20th century.

Pramoedya was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature several times and was bestowed with the PEN Freedom to Write Award in 1988. At age 74, Pramoedya received the Fukuoka Prize for outstanding contributions by Asians in 2000. He died in the capital, Jakarta, on April 30, 2006 at age 81.