Pramoedya Ananta Toer, 81; Indonesian Democracy Advocate
Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who overcame imprisonment and censorship to publish dozens of stories and novels about his country, died Sunday among family at his East Jakarta home, his daughter said. He was 81.
Pramoedya was hospitalized Thursday in the intensive care unit of Jakarta’s Catholic St. Carolus Hospital to receive treatment for heart trouble and diabetes, but was taken home Saturday at his family’s request.
“He had dedicated his whole life to this country through his work,” his daughter Tatiana Ananta said. “We all have lost a great father, a great author. I am very proud of him.”
Age and deteriorating health -- combined with a sense of closure in his work -- had kept Pramoedya from writing since 2000, though he collaborated with one of his daughters on an encyclopedia of Indonesia.
His grandson, Kiki Sepitan, said that immediately after arriving home Saturday night, his grandfather lighted a kretek, or clove cigarette -- he was rarely seen without one -- and that his condition deteriorated overnight.
Born in 1925 to a rice farmer during Dutch colonial rule, Pramoedya was an outspoken champion of democracy even in his final years.
Pramoedya’s works and life tell the history of Indonesia over more than half a century. But his ideas -- once a major influence fueling the pro-democracy groundswell that toppled the Suharto dictatorship -- have largely been cast aside as Indonesia struggles to revive its economy, defeat Islamic extremists responsible for a string of deadly bombings and put down separatist rebellions.
Pramoedya advocated the removal of bureaucrats and politicians “tainted” by Suharto-era abuses, but many of the old dictator’s cronies remain in office.
He also wanted an inclusive government that welcomed people from parts of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago outside the main island of Java, but the Javanese still hold the reins of power.
“I am half blind and almost totally deaf, but I won’t stop being angry because not many people are outraged enough at the state of Indonesia,” he said in 2004.
Pramoedya, jailed under successive regimes -- including 14 years under Suharto -- was nominated several times for a Nobel Prize in literature, and his 34 books and essays have been translated into 37 languages.
Pramoedya was first jailed in 1947 by Dutch troops for being “anti-colonialist.” He was accused of sympathizing with Chinese communists and imprisoned shortly after Suharto came to power in the aftermath of the assassination of right-wing Indonesian generals in 1965.
Pramoedya’s left-leaning, outspoken style of politics earned him enemies within Suharto’s “New Order,” and his works were banned from circulation.
He was thrown in a cell without trial, first off the coast of mainland Java and then in the penal colony of Buru in the eastern islands of the archipelago, along with thousands of other opponents of the U.S.-backed regime.
His best-known works -- the “Buru Quartet” novels about Indonesia’s independence struggle against the Dutch -- were written on scraps of paper and smuggled out while he was imprisoned in Buru.
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