This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet, book 1), by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006, was an Indonesian author and political prisoner. He protested first against the treatment of the native Indonesians by their Dutch colonizers, then the World War II occupation of Indonesia by the Japanese, and then against the authoritarian regimes that replaced them. His political beliefs — which tended towards the socialist end of the spectrum — were not popular, and when his writing seemed to criticize the regime in power more directly, he ended up imprisoned. Many of his works, including this one, the first volume of the Buru Quartet, were written (or composed) while he was either in prison or under house arrest. This one was recited orally to fellow prisoners prior to being written down and smuggled out for publication.

Minke (which, I believe, is Dutch for “monk,” and a nickname) is a young man just before the turn of the 20th century, towards the end of his schooling, when, on a random invitation from a friend, he meets the most famous concubine in Indonesia and her family. Nyai Ontsoroh has been running a business empire for years, and she has been teaching her daughter Annelies — who is, of course, half Indonesian, half Dutch — how to run a business herself. Minke himself is entirely Indonesian and the son of a man with some political power, but he attends the Dutch school in a different town. There are all sorts of racial tensions going on, because Minke has fallen in love with Annelies and her with him, and she is considered significantly too good for him, being half Dutch — although she is the daughter of a concubine, which complicates things. How will their love survive?

Just as a warning and a reminder, there are spoilers after the cut, and some rather frank discussion of unsavory topics. Continue reading This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet, book 1), by Pramoedya Ananta Toer