Sang Pemula by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

So, after months of procrastinating, as well as distraction from my guilty pleasure of Amanda Scott’s Scottish historical romance, I finally finished my reading on Sang Pemula, another masterpiece by Pramoedya. Literally means “The Pioneer,” Sang Pemula is a non-fiction works containing a biography of Raden Mas Tirto Adhi Soerjo, the father of Indonesian press, and dubbed, if not by Pramoedya alone, as the one who sow the seed of Indonesian national movement in the early 20th century.

If you’ve read, or familiar already with Pram’s famous masterpiece the Buru Quartet, it might delight you to know that this is book is the very biography of the person who became the inspiration of Pram’s main character, Minke, in his famous quartet. I sure got very excited when I found this book in my aunt’s bookshelf. I never thought this book even existed!

Due to the lack of available, preserved articles and sources, most are far from intact and in good condition, Pramoedya could only seemed to gather so much.

The R. M. Tirto Adhi Soerjo (or also famous as T. A. S.) really existed in the late 19th century of Indonesia. Born in 1880, he was of a Javanese noble family who went so far to a medical school only to drop out later. Already writing series of articles from the early age, he started out as a journalist and later published and circulated his own newspaper. His articles were known to consist of harsh critics and very bold, creating a lot of enemies, especially from the government he definitely opposed. His newspapers were the first to use Malay, and amongst these were Soenda Berita (1903-1905), Medan Prijaji (1907), and Poetri Hindia (1908). Too modern for his time, he stuck me as not only open minded and critical, he was as well a humanitarian and feminist. However, just as depicted in the last part of Pram’s Buru Quartet, Rumah Kaca (House of Glass), those opposing him were determined to shut him up and erased his name of the history. In some ways, this might be true. Not as many people know him as they do Ki Hajar Dewantara despite his just-as-important contribution. And even though the Indonesian government finally acknowledged him and his effortless works, even named him the father of Indonesian modern press, Pram clearly thought that he hadn’t got the recognition and reward he’d deserved.

The book includes several news articles and opinion written by T. A. S. himself, as well as two short stories (one with missing parts) and one incomplete serial–all fiction works. Those works, along with his biography provides us many insights of the life of people, especially the oppressed natives, at that time.

What really interests me, as well as amazes me is the language used in the book, varying from the older style dating back from the late 19th century up to the ones from not so long ago during Pram’s era. I can’t believe how fast the language is evolving that even though Pram’s tried to simplify some of the words and sentences, it struck me that I still find the language used by Pram (which means that it’s also the Indonesian language used during the time Pram compiled the book) very different from the ones I’m seeing and using right now, and it’s only with difficulty that I finally grasp partly, if not fully, what each of the sentences mean.

All in all, I’d highly recommend this book to those who are a fan of Pram’s works, as well as those interested in Indonesian linguistics and history. But this book is a very serious reading that I actually feel like procrastinating once in a while whenever I’m in need of a lighter reading.

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Published by

Laksmi

An MA student at Waseda University, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyo, Japan. An avid reader. A language geek as well. And a book hoarder.

2 thoughts on “Sang Pemula by Pramoedya Ananta Toer”

  1. Great author, fascinating character obviously. Wonder whether the book is available in translation.

    Interesting observation about the pace of change of language. I wonder whether that’s caused by the young age of Bahasa as mega-language, the background of many different regional and ethnic languages or the dynamics of new generations as such.

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