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The Mute's SoliloquyBook #17: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Mute's Soliloquy (trans. Willem Samuels)
Country: Indonesia

This volume is the largely unstructured memoir of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an Indonesian writer who became a political prisoner on Buru Island in the mid-1960s. Most of this book was written in prison, and it is essentially a compilation of diverse writings composed at different times. Toer writes about his experiences in prison, as well as the fates of some of his fellow prisoners; he also writes about his own life and the evolution of his political ideas. Most of all, he writes about Indonesia, both as an ideal to strive for and as a country he loves despite its shortcomings.

This book was required reading for a class that I’m taking. As a memoir, it’s not great; there’s no real structure to it, and many sections are quite digressive and too long. Parts of it are interesting, but other sections are very dull. However, it was an extremely interesting book to me because of what I was able to learn about Indonesia, a country I about which I knew basically nothing. It was fascinating to become immersed in another culture and another way of thinking about the world. I also think that this book is universally important because it gives a voice to the political prisoners who suffered and died on Buru Island. The most important and moving part of book is the last chapter, the “Table of the Dead and the Missing,” which catalogs (as thoroughly as was possible at the time) Toer’s fellow prisoners who died or vanished from Buru. For that chapter alone, I’m glad that I read this book.

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