Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Novels and Their Political Significance Today

Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Novels and Their Political Significance Today


About the Seminar

In the 1980s, the four novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer – This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass – were the subject of controversy and conflict during the New Order. Initially hailed by Vice-President Adam Malik as books that should be compulsory reading for all students in high schools, they were later banned for containing disguised and unidentifiable Marxist-Leninist teachings. Despite the bans, they were widely circulated and read, especially amongst university students.

In 2017, these books can be found on prominent tables in every major Indonesian bookshop and pirated versions abound in the thousands of small book kiosks around the country. This is even the case without there ever being a seriously announced lifting of the ban on the books. Once again the youth are reading Pramoedya’s historical novels. Indeed among high school students and early year university students there appears to be a boom in reading in general. Many new literary works are appearing.

If there is a resurgence of interest in Pramoedya’s books, why is this? Is it at all connected to the ongoing and intensifying polemics over Indonesian history in general? What is it in particular in Pramoedya’s books that has appeal? What are contemporary youth saying and writing about his works?

About the Speaker

Max Lane is a Senior Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Gajah Mada University.

His most recent book Indonesia Tidak Hadir di Bumi Manusia: Pramoedya, Sejarah dan Politik (2017) – [Indonesia is Not Present on This Earth of Mankind: Pramoedya, History and Politics] is now into its second printing. He is the translator of Pramoedya’s well known Buru Quartet, starting with This Earth of Mankind as well as Pramoedya’s The Chinese in Indonesia and Arok of Java [Arok Dedes].

His other recent books are Decentralization and Discontents: An Essay on Class, Political Agency and National Perspective in Indonesian Politics (ISEAS 2014); Unfinished Nation: Indonesia Before and After Suharto (Verso 2008, 2017); and Catastrophe in Indonesia (Seagull/University of Chicago 2010). In 2016 he published a collection of poems and prose in Indonesia and Not, Poems and Otherwise: Anecdotes Scattered (Djaman Baroe, 2016), which was launched at the 2016 Singapore Writers Festival. He is also the translator of plays and poems of W.S. Rendra. He was the founding editor of Inside Indonesia magazine, has served as a Second Secretary at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and as a Principal Research Officer for the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in the Australian Parliament as well as a journalist.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 10 November 2017.



Nov 13 2017


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2