Pramoedya Ananta Toer does something really brilliant in the fourth book of The Buru Quartet HOUSE OF GLASS. The prior three books were all told in first person from the viewpoint of Raden Mas Minke showing how he developed into a visionary leader for Indonesian independence or at least a fighter for human rights under a colonial system.
The fourth book however is told from the viewpoint of someone else M. Pangemanann (“with two n’s”) a military policeman who starts off as a commissioner but gets promoted further during the events of the book becoming a special agent in the colonial government fighting against those inspired by Minke and the burgeoning anti-colonial movement and also who is assigned with taking Minke himself down.
What’s even more interesting in the narrative structure is the first three books in the quartet – THIS EARTH OF MANKIND, CHILD OF ALL NATIONS, and FOOTPRINTS appear as books written by the Minke character. They are real in the book as well as in real life by Toer.
The third book FOOTPRINTS is the longest and most action filled of the four books. Here Minke marries for a second and third time as the second wife, a Chinese nationalist who turns him on to a certain type of revolutionary organization, dies. Minke fails to finish medical school and instead becomes editor of a magazine for natives where he exposes the crimes of the colonial government. This magazine becomes extremely popular and leads to the formation of a native group for activism which in turns brings Minke to the attention of the colonial government and leads to his arrest and exile.
One interesting topic I would like to study further is the differences described ethnically in the quartet – native vs. Madurese vs Javanese vs. pure blood. I didn’t quite understand all these terms and how the characters judge one another based on this although I do know that Indonesians didn’t see themselves as the inhabitants of one country in those times (about 100 years ago).
These four books are an amazing achievement. A human story set among real history. Literary experimentation side by side with historical narrative. There is a tendency to minimize colonialism these days and to talk about it as if was a good thing. Talk like this is part ignorance and part racism and it’s good to read a well researched masterwork that shows how bad colonialism really was for the Indonesians and also how it involved pitting groups against each other so as they will ignore the real exploiter something right wingers still do particularly in the US for example public worker controversy in Wisconsin.
Toer really is, was a great writer….Here’s some info about the guy the Minke character is based on (translated into English). http://translate.google.com.my/translate?hl=en&sl=id&u=http://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirto_Adhi_Soerjo&prev=/search%3Fq%3DTirto%2BAdi%2BSuryo%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DN%26biw%3D1047%26bih%3D482%26prmd%3Dimvnsb&sa=X&ei=Rj3pT_3uF8zwrQfahpT_DQ&ved=0CFMQ7gEwAA