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Exile: Conversations With Pramoedya Ananta Toer Paperback – May 1, 2006
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One can imagine that this type of conversation can easily turn into a self aggrandizing and bombastic semi-autobiography that serves no other purpose than to provide a record of Pram's past and career. Indeed in many parts of the book, one can sense the pride, a little arrogance even, coming from the frail but proud man at the twilight of his life. During the time of this interview, Pram was no longer able to produce new writings (in part due to a stroke in 2000), and he spent his days reminiscing and re-evaluating his legacy. From this conversation, it is obvious that he remained a man who would not shy away from expressing his idealistic world views and self-righteousness, despite his physical state and diminishing mental capacity. He talked proudly about "Pramism," his view of the world order that is a combination of nationalism, socialism, and idealism, a reminiscent of Sukarno's Nasakom (Nationalism, religion and communism) ideology. Indeed, Pram professed his undying admiration of Sukarno repeatedly throughout the conversation, and seemed to have the opinion that had Sukarno lived to see his plans through, Indonesia would have been a much better and prosperous nation.
However, what makes the book very compelling is Vitchek's astute observations of the Indonesian culture that led to lengthy conversations about "Javanism" and Indonesia's continual failure to rise to the occasion despite having many chances to do so. Through these conversations, the reader is offered a glimpse into the Indonesian way of life (particularly the blind submission to authority) that has existed long before western colonialism and has continued to be a major impediment to progress in the post-Soeharto era. In a lot of ways, the book is a study into Indonesia's psyche throughout its history. Some familiarity with Indonesian history can be very helpful as the conversation invokes many details from Indonesia's past that may not be general knowledge to most. However, the book also does a good job of providing some lead in by including at the beginning of the book a short narrative of Indonesian history from just before the colonialism era to the collapse of the Suharto regime.
It is rather ironic that for a man who champions independence, critical thinking and self-determination as much as Pram does, one cannot help to sense that he was overly in awe of Sukarno, so much so that he failed to accept that the later years of Sukarno's rule was a tight-rope walking act that served the nation much less than it did Sukarno himself. It was Sukarno's failure to provide a clear vision for the country and his continual insistence in occupying power that ultimately led to the violent turn of events in 1965, which forced him out of power and ushered him to his demise. In a way, "Javanism" was alive and well even in Pram, through his adherence to a flawed figure without ever accepting the figure's shortcomings.
I will recommend this book as a must read to Indonesians. If you are not interested in in-depth socio-political discussions concerning Indonesia, this book is not for you. However, if you are interested in Indonesian culture, have spent some time or will spend some time in Indonesia, this book will provide a great insight into the Indonesian way of life, and serve as a good introduction to the history of Indonesia.