Eight stories by celebrated Indonesian novelist Toer (The Girl From the Coast, 2002, etc.), most of them fictionalized memoirs of his childhood and youth.
Born in 1925, the son of a nationalist schoolmaster in East Java, the author grew up in a home that was a center of the nascent anticolonialist movement. The characters here, very obviously modeled closely on his relatives and himself, are educated, provincial Indonesians who move somewhat awkwardly between, on the one hand, the traditions of Islam and village life and, on the other, the modern consciousness that underlay the development of Indonesian nationalism. The title story features a young boy’s impressionistic recollections of his childhood home: his schoolmaster father participates in the nationalist movement and is often away for long periods of time; his long-suffering and devout Muslim mother suffers from her husband’s neglect but endures nonetheless. “In Twilight Born” continues the saga, describing the turmoil that is wrought when a local teacher makes his home into a center of anticolonial activity and nearly has his school shut down by the authorities in consequence. “Circumcision” offers an unusually nostalgic view of Islam from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy who recalls his circumcision and the celebrations that followed. “Inem” counters with a sad account of a poor servant girl forced into an arranged marriage at the age of eight. Family life is Toer’s dominant theme here, but he can turn his attention outward as well. “Revenge” depicts a young private in the nationalist forces who must look the other way when he witnesses one of his officers torturing a captured soldier, and “Independence Day” portrays the quiet shame of a blind and crippled hero of the war of independence who comes to resent being looked after by his wealthy family.
A fine collection that manages to re-create a distant and exotic world, from a writer who deserves to be better known in this country.