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Beyond the horizon

Published: Sep 22, 2007

Ron Witton

Soon after the New Order was established in 1966, an innovative monthly cultural and literary journal named Horison ('Horizon' in English) appeared. The writers who established it were brought together by their opposition to the socialist-realist demands of the left-wing Institute for People's Culture (Lekra), so influential in Sukarno's Indonesia.

These 22 short stories were selected from the thousands published in Horison over the last thirty years. They provide a veritable rijstafel of personal experiences of what the New Order meant to ordinary people. In the introduction David Hill explains the origins of Horison, and the context of the stories selected. He ensured a selection of women writers, even though they are relatively poorly represented throughout Horison's history.

The translations are excellent. They meet the ultimate test of a good translation, that is, that one is rarely, if ever, aware one is reading a translation. For those teaching Indonesian language, providing students with copies of the stories in the original Indonesian would constitute a wonderful teaching tool to complement this book.

With the end of the New Order and the dawning of reformasi, many observers will begin to consider the human cost of the so-called Era of Development. Readers are here invited to savour the great diversity of ways the human condition was affected by this era.

They range from the feelings of a person from the jungles of Irian Jaya transported to Jakarta, to the manner in which an honest civil servant dealt with pressure to become corrupt.

We taste a little of what life was like in a political concentration camp. We learn of the difficulties of those many millions forced to relocate from rural areas to work in low-paid urban jobs, in the construction industry, in factories or in prostitution. We see how urban and foreign money impinged on rural areas.

We have here a series of snapshots of the rakyat, the ordinary people of Indonesia, as they tried to live with forces far too great for them. Yet threads of humour and satire are woven throughout many of the stories.

David T Hill (ed), Beyond the horizon: Short stories from contemporary Indonesia, Melbourne, Monash Asia Institute, 1998.

Ron Witton teaches Indonesian at the University of Western Sydney and the University of Wollongong.

Inside Indonesia 57: Jan-Mar 1999

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