Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Fugitive - Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This is the first book, I am reading , of this prolific novelist from Indinesia. Pitted to win the nobel prize of literature multiple times ( short listed 5 times at least), I wanted to read his books for a long time. Though this may not be the best or most popular work of this author, it is an important book in his literary career.

Written during his stay under retention in one of the Indonesian prison during 1947 to 1949 , and published in 1950, this novel is supposed to be the first novel written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. This covers a span of a night and the following day , the day on which Japanes surrendered to the allied forces. Hardo, a young platoon commander under the Occupied Japanese forces, lead a failed coup attempt with his friend. The revolt was quashed after one of their comrade in action abstained at last minute and leaked the plan. Ever since, he and his team are being hunted by the Japanese and he is on a constant run.

This novel written mostly in conversational style, takes us through the events and the aftermath of the rebellion. Hardo , disguised as a beggar, returns to his home town in Java, in an effort to meet his fiancee. Failing to meet her in her house and being recognised by her brother, he escapes from there with the group of beggars. His father-in-law-to-be meets him to lure him back to the house on an order by his son and wife. The initial pages are the conversation between the two , where Hardo comes to know the death of his mother and his fathers gambling habits. As expected the father-in-law-to-be reports his where about to the Japanese and soon the hunting soldiers lands at the village searching for him. He also meets his father later in a hut trying to escape the hunting soldiers. His father develop doubts about the begger and addresses him as his son from the voice , despite the darkness of the night. Other meeting and conversations include his co-conspirator Dipo and other friends as the day progresses. In the meanwhile, soldiers arrests the father-in-law-to-be and his gambler father and detain them until they find Hardo. The arrest and detention is lead to the town where his fiancee is working as a teacher. The leader of the police, their co-conspirator and traitor, is leading the search and arrests for the Japanese. The novel ends at the arrests of the Fugitives and the subsequent announcement of the surrender of Japanese. The jubilant crowd wants to take revenge on the Japanese Officer and the traitor, causing a minor skirmish, resulting in the death of the Japanese soldier and his fiancee in the end.

It is important to know the time of this fiction and the events lead to this. Indonesia, under the rule of Dutch for a long time, found a welcome change when Japanese soldiers defeated the Dutch force. Like Suharto , Sukarno and other prominent leaders, Pramoedya Toer also supported the Japanese initially. Soon they realised their mistake as Japanese turned out to be worse than the Dutch and the revolutionary forces now started their campaign against Japanese occupation.

Beautifully written novel with a very detached and un-sensitive narration, I found this book very good. True to a revolutionary , Hardo does not get sentimental at any point of time, beit when he hear the news of his mothers death, his fathers gambling habits, on being betrayed by his close friend or the death of his fiancee by a random fire from the gun of the Japanese Officer trying to save his own life. This book may not be a structurally elaborate and with the large scale description and characterisation, but effective in getting the strong feel across the readers.

Here is a dedicated web page for this author.

The Fugitive
Pramoedya Ananta Toer translated by Willem Samuels
Penguin Publications
171 Pages
Rs 595/-
The beggar laughed and glanced the sky. "The star is out again", he said slowly.
"What star?" the old man asked. "What star?" he repeated.
"There in the sky."
"There in the sky, nd in my heart."
"Your heart?" The old man shook his head." I dont understand."
"Go home"
"Go home? But if I go home, I should at least take some news about you, And what are you going to do ? Are you going to your father's?"
"Tell me where you are going."
"To the stars": the beggar answered shortly.
"The stars in the sky and your heart ?" the old man muttered in frustration.
"That's right."
" I dont understand at all".
"Go home".

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