Indonesian mass genocide of 1965-66 led to a death toll of almost half to one million and replaced Sukarno with Suharto. Many were imprisoned in the Buru island jail. One of them was writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of the Buru Quartet which was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988.
Writers, intellectuals and teachers spent years of incarceration on the island devoid of basic facilities. One of them, Mars Noersmono, was in and out of jails while studying engineering and ended up in Buru island. He wrote a book, Bertahan Hidup di Pulau Buru (A Prisoner’s Life on Buru Island) which also had photographs of the island. He looked for a publisher for fifteen years and finally found one in Bandung. Few copies of his book found their way to the bookshelf.
He told a journalist from The Diplomat: “I wrote the book because I want the younger generation to understand the truth, and pay respect to those who did not survive… Writing has also lifted the burden I’ve been carrying for so long, and that’s a relief. My dreams are now not so bad.”
Indonesian Independence Day is observed on August 17. It is a celebration of their declaration of independence from Dutch colonizers in 1945. The country was finally granted independence by colonials in December 1949. Sukarno, the first President, opted to commemorate 17 th August 1945 as the independence day of Indonesia, though it wasn’t until 2005 that the Dutch finally accepted Sukarno’s declaration!
With Sukarno and Suharto, writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer also made a bid for independence as he felt, “Each injustice has to be fought against”. Toer also known as Pak Pram the freedom fighter and writer spent some years in jail and under house arrest for his outspoken writing, both under the Colonials and under Suharto in the island of Buru. He came up with the Buru Quartet and eventually was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1988. He died in 2006. A google doodle didmark his ninety second birthday in 2017.
Amba, a novel from Indonesia, written by award winning writer Lakshmi Pamuntjak, was a modern take on the story of Amba and Bhisma from The Mahabharata, set against the backdrop of the violence of 1965 and the Buru penal colony set up during Suharto’s regime. Published in 2012, it became a national bestseller within Indonesia.
It was first translated to German in 2015 and sold 10,000 copies within three months of its launch. Later the English translation renamed it The Question of Red (2016). The novel did win some amount of international acclaim.