Sunday, 5 April 2009

House of Glass

House of Glass (Rumah Kaca) is the fourth and final book in Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Buru Quartet. The books are originally stories told by Pak Pram to his fellow inmates when they were incarcerated on Buru Island prison.

The Buru Quartet chronicles the rise of liberation and nationalism movement among the people in the late 19th century Dutch-ruled Indonesia. The events in the books is narrated by Raden Mas Minke, a young man of minor royal Jawa descend. He began his journey as a native student in local European school and later made his way to become a writer and a medical student. During the years, Minke met with pivotal characters who all play a part in the formation of a liberated Indonesia. The story of Minke's journey is told in the first three books, This Earth of Mankind (Bumi Manusia), Child of All Nations (Anak Semua Bangsa) and Footsteps (Jejak Langkah).

In the last book, a significant change occurs. The story is no longer told by Minke, but by a Christian native police officer named Jacques Pangemanann. A now elder and very influential Minke is seen by the Dutch Algemeene Secretariat (AS) as a force of disturbance. The AS calls Pangemanann in to monitor Minke.

Pangemanann is the AS go-to person in matters known as "native affairs." His job is mainly to understand development of the various natives movements and advise the AS on how to deal with them.

Pak Pram's decision to change the story teller seems to work to the story's advantage. From here on we are shown up close how the colonial mind works.

Pangemanann is one of the few fortunate natives who received a extensive education. He went to study in Sorbonne, France, married a French woman named Paulette, and returned home to become a police officer. Such post is beyond the reach of most natives, unless they can speak Dutch, French or another European language.

Limiting education opportunities is one of the ways a colonial government maintains control over a native population. Both Minke and Pangemanann attained above average education level, but they differ in how they make use of it. Minke enlighten his people about freedom and liberation while Pangemanann studied every means feasible to stop Minke in his tracks.

Pak Pram is a riveting historical author. I've never imagined myself being deeply engrossed with a historical novel right from the first chapter. History was never one of my better subjects in school.

The original Buru Quartet is difficult to find nowadays. The ones in stores are the English translated version published by Penguin, which are very expensive. There are other books by Pak Pram to check out, if you can find any, like Perburuan, Bukan Pasar Malam and his memoir, Nyanyi Sunyi Seorang Bisu. Keluarga Gerilya, if I'm not mistaken, was used as a text for Sastera SPM back in the 90s. So go raid your elder sibling, cousin, distant relative or friend's old textbooks cupboard. Or your nearest library.

Also, head to Jiwa Rasa and see his review of Pak Pram's books.


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