Oct 15, 2021 Last Updated 1:13 AM, Oct 14, 2021


Published: Jul 14, 2007

Kate McGregor

A History of Modern Indonesia is a refreshing account of modern Indonesian history from the Dutch colonial period to the post-Suharto era. Unlike many accounts of Indonesian history it does not focus exclusively on the political elite, the so-called tokoh besar. This book instead tells a story of the Indonesian nation through a combination of rich historical narrative and insertions of fragments from the life experiences and writings of the famous novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

In his introduction, Vickers states that Pramoedya is ‘one of few Indonesians with a coherent and developed vision of the nation’s history’. While Pramoedya is famous abroad and highly respected by many intellectuals and students in Indonesia, for most of his life he was well removed from the elite circles of power. Pramoedya was incarcerated by the Dutch for anti-colonialism, by President Sukarno for his criticism of anti-Chinese sentiment and by President Suharto for membership in the leftist cultural organisation, Lekra. It is for this reason and his own attention to the average person, that Pramoedya’s thoughts and life story provide a potent counter history to elite accounts.

It is not only the approach taken in Vickers’ book that is innovative, but also the topics covered. Vickers is to be commended for reflecting on the experiences of a wide range of Indonesians of broad social change. The book is written in eloquent prose and contains fascinating information on different eras of Indonesian history. The book is also now sadly a tribute to Pramoedya, who died in May this year. One hopes that it will inspire many more people to read Pramoedya’s work as an alternative view of the Indonesian past and also inspire similarly innovative approaches to writing the Indonesian past.

Adrian Vickers, A History of Modern Indonesia, Cambridge University Press, 2005 ISBN 0521542626, A$47.95

Reviewed by Kate McGregor  (k.mcgregor@unimelb.edu.au)

Review: Dreamseekers presents a first-hand account of the world of Indonesia’s migrant domestic workers

Wendy Miller

Indonesia’s migrant workers contribute some US$32 million annually to the Indonesian economy. Around 70 per cent of these workers are women domestic helpers.

In Dreamseekers: Indonesian Women as Domestic Workers in Asia, Dewi Anggraeni presents a first-hand account of the world of Indonesia’s migrant domestic workers. Narrowing her study to domestic workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, Anggraeni brings together a picture of this complex industry based largely on first-hand accounts from all stakeholders. These include the domestic workers themselves, as well as employers, agents, sponsors, bureaucrats and NGOs. The stories she presents reveal a clash of cultures, languages, laws and dreams. Poor regulation and training contribute to the problems in this industry. For some, conflicts arise simply in moving from a patriarchal, feudal village to a fast-paced, industrialised city.

Anggraeni analyses individual cases of abuse, as well as presenting stereotypical examples of employers, agents and domestic helpers to convey how misunderstandings occur. Abuse can occur on both sides – domestic workers have also engaged in various forms of payback, when placements sour. Ironing people, feeding poison to babies and starvation are a few of the more extreme. To balance the picture, Anggraeni also includes interviews with workers who have developed harmonious relationships with employers.

The author highlights the need for a radical overhaul not just in the makeshift system that supports this industry but also in the Indonesian community psyche that places such low status on domestic workers.

Dewi Anggraeni Jakarta, 'Dreamseekers: Indonesian Women as Domestic Workers in Asia', Equinox Publishing, 2006 ISBN 9793780282, US$14.97

Reviewed by Wendy Miller (cheshirecatdioz@optusnet.com.au)

The following are recent English translations of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novels, published by Equinox Publishing  (www.equinoxpublishing.com)

It’s not an all night fair

A translation of Bukan pasar malam (1951), this book tells of a son returning home to Central Java to face his dying father. It relates his search to find value and meaning in his father’s life and his own.

ISBN 9799589827, US$7.95, 2006

Tales from Djakarta

Tales from Djakarta: caricatures of circumstances and their human beings is the English translation of Pramoedya’s short story collection, Gulat di Djakarta (1953). Stories sympathetically describe the poor and oppressed, including the lives of servants, prostitutes and criminals. Most of the stories paint a gloomy picture of Jakarta in the first half of 1950s.

ISBN 9799589827, US$19.95, 2006

The king, the witch and the priest

This book is a translation of Tjerita Calon Arang (1957), a re-telling of a twelfth century Javanese tale, about the witch, Calon Arang. Her daughter, Ratna Manggali, is unable to find a husband, because all men fear her mother. Angered by her daughter’s plight, the witch spreads pestilence throughout the land. The wise man, Empu Baradah, asks his star pupil, Bahula, to marry Ratna Manggali, to assist in finding Calon Arang’s secret power. In this book, Pramoedya examines the issues of good and evil, and whether the end justifies the means in the fight against evil.

ISBN 9799589835, US$8.95, 2006

Inside Indonesia 88: Oct-Dec 2006

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A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar