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October 2007

From STRAITS TIMES, Sunday Edition, 28 October, 2007

Love in translation

By Stephanie Yap

He has translated five novels by prominent Indonesian writerPramoedya Ananta Toer, but the first got Max Lane kicked out of the country

WHEN Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer died in April last year at the age of 81, he had been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in literature.

He was also described in obituaries in the international press as the country's leading writer.

But back in 1981, when Australian writer Max Lane translated his book, This Earth Of Mankind, from Bahasa Indonesia into English, it ended up costing him his day job.

Lane, 56, who had started studying Bahasa Indonesia in high school in Australia, was then a diplomat with the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.


I have heard them referred to as "Hindu eyes" presumably a reference to some distant Indian originating Aryan genes. His eyelids were bigger than most peoples, kind of half shutting down over the eyeball. But they didn't droop at all, it was just how they were. Steady half shut but big and focused eyes looking at you, or staring at you. There may well have been Indian blood somewhere in his ancestry. After all he was Balinese and Bali was the last Hindu enclave in Indonesia. And way back seven or eight or nine hundred years ago the rulers of the day, all through Sumatra as well as Java and Bali had invited Indian Brahmin to their courts to teach religion and writing and reading. But I haven't been to India, so I can't vouch that those strange eyes are indeed Indian.

They added to his force of presence. He was taller and heavier than most Balinese but it was personality and his actions that were the real basis of that presence.

How did I meet him?



From 3rd from L to R: Ati Nurbiati, Managing editor, Jakarta Post"; Max Lane; Gekky Tambunan, Dept of Literature, University of Indonesia

Periplus Kemang, Jakarta, 27 October


Below is a slightly abridged version of notes used for a talk given to a political conference in Australia, in January, 2005

Internationalism in the era of so-called “globalisation”.

On 26 December, 2004 one of the worst earthquakes in a century occurred sending a massive tsunami traveling at 800 km per hour out from an epicenter off the island of Sumatra. This tsunami hit a series of countries around the Bay of Bengal and down to the tip of Sumatra, Aceh. The devastation and death caused by this natural phenomenon has been massive with more than 150,000 dead. This scale of death and devastation, however, does not actually reflect the scale of the event of nature but rather the monstrous scale of the manmade situation that allowed so much horror to befall so many human beings.


It was a less than ordinary building on an ordinary road, an unattractive street despite the trees that lined it. Yes, it was an unattractive avenue adourned with buildings constructed on the cheap and for function only. Cables and wires of all kinds were strung from pole to pole, and building to building, a tangled mess, making even looking up at the sky unattractive. Around the trees was asphalt and concrete and that stretched out across six lanes, along which racket making and black smoke spewing vehicles traveled. There were not even jeepneys on this road, which at least would have added splashes of colour and trashy pictures to the narrow panorama of asphalt and cement and cables and grey, square buildings.


I post below some recent statements relating to an escalation of labour unrest in The Philippines. This follows in the wake of almost three years of political unrest focused on the methods used by the Arroyo government in coming to power and in the electoral process. I will try to follow up this with more postings.


Writer to the World is published below. It is a very interesting article on Pramoedya as he speaks to people beyond Indonesia. Writer to the World is written by Chris Gogwilt, Professior of English and Comparative Literature at Fordham University in New York, USA. It was first published in INSIDE INDONESIA.


With the death of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, world literature mourns one of its greatest writers. Within Indonesia and internationally, obituaries, memorials, and reflections have already awarded him the posthumous recognition as a writer of world literature that was denied him during his lifetime, in the form of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It will take much longer, however, to come to terms with the full significance of Pramoedya’s achievements, from the early stories about the period of the Indonesian independence struggle up to the monumental historical novels that emerged from the period of his internment on Buru Island under Suharto’s New Order. Encompassing both the formation and the dismantling of Third World revolutionary nationalism, Pramoedya’s personal, literary, and historical experience registers the seismic shock-effects of twentieth century decolonisation.

Gogwilt at Fordham.jpg

(Chris GoGwilt is sitting in the middle. On the left is Will Schwalbe, the US publisher of Pramoedya, now at Hyperion Books. Fordham seminar on Pramoedya, April 24, 2006. Photo by Dhyta Caturani.)


Arok of Java.jpg

Ratna Sarumpaet is one of Indonesia's leading playwrights and directors and was a pro-democracy activist during the Suharto years. She i still outspokjen on many political and social issues. She recently ended a period as Chairperson of the Jakarta Arts Council.

Danial Indrakusuma is one of Indonesia's leading critical intellectuals and politicians who had regular discussions with Pramoedya. He won the Special Jury Prize for Short Documentary in 2002 at the Jakarta International Film Festival for his film "It is difficult to forget .... difficult to forget" on the events of 1965 when Pramoedya was arrested. He has written for such magazines as Prisma, Progres, and the tabloid, Pembebasan. He has spoken at forums in Australia, the Philippines, the Netherlands and Portugal. He was a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Association (PRD) in 2004.

Issue #314, Green Left Weekly, April 22, 1998
SYDNEY -- More than 750 people participated in a historic event, the first Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference, held here April 10-13. The conference was characterised by an electric atmosphere of solidarity and struggle, with both in-depth discussions in workshops and plenary sessions and also packed-out evening cultural and solidarity events.

On the last day, more than half the conference also mobilised for a 7.00am solidarity rally with the waterside workers picketing outside Darling Harbour docks.


[This talk was presented to the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference, April 10-13, 1998 by Max Lane, conference convenor and foreign affairs spokesperson of the Democratic Socialist Party.]

Comrades, during the conference welcome I put forward the proposal that one of the purposes of organising this event was to facilitate all of us taking further steps forward in building confidence between the organisations of the Asian and Pacific region. It was about building confidence between each other so that we can take further concrete steps in forging a closer cooperation and coordination in the struggles that lie ahead.


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