Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thoughts on "All That is Gone"

All That is Gone: Stories
by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

My Rating:

One of the joys of bookselling is that occasionally you are privileged to read a rare special gem of a book and get to introduce it to a new group of readers. This is definitely such a book. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is an author whose name I've never heard of before but this is one Indonesian writer's name that I think should be on the lips of many more readers in the West. All That is Gone is a wonderful collection of short stories written with such a clear, simple elegance, that you can almost hear the morning rain dripping from the bamboo eaves.

In these stories of Indonesia, we see the confusion in the struggle to reclaim independence from the Dutch, and then the Communists, and then the Republicans, and then the Dutch again. We bear witness to the struggle of a people to survive against wave after wave of forces beyond their control who try to colonize their minds as well as their country. You find yourself in awe of the hope, the fear, and the courage of a people who attempt to maintain the sanity of an ordinary existence in the midst of political turmoil.

But these are also stories of tradition: you will be haunted by the story of Inem, the child bride; you will ache for the boys during their circumcision; cry for Sri as she tries to hold her family together when the "Reds" come; and laugh at Soleiman as he makes war with himself as a writer and husband.

Someone somewhere lovingly championed this book. Given that Americans don't read as much literature as they should, it must have been a challenge to get this book translated and produced for the reading public here. You can see the care that was taken in the typeset and the detail of delicate leaf widgets for the story breaks — such a lovely touch.

If you read nothing of literature this year, read this book. It's just wonderful.


Anonymous said...

Though a book worth regarding for its insights into the interesting and too ignored lifestyle of the indonesian people, I found a few nagging annoyances in writing style that annoyed me greatly; First and foremost would be repetition. I found his use and reuse of sentences with little variation in structure or vocabulary (at the very least in the english iteration of this collection) detracted from my enjoyment of the book. though a minor nag it bothered me still hearing about the river banks and clumps of bamboo washing away on the Lusi river over and over again. This lack of lexiconal diversity is compounded in another one of the stories contained, the one pertaining to a captured traitor. The use of the words "intoxicated" "drunken" and "drunk" appeared incessantly throughout a chapter, to the point of the crowd being "intoxicated by their own intoxication." Though these flaws may be based entirely on the translator of this text, they still made my experience with the book less enjoyable.

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