The novel also provides a very thought-provoking picture of the creation of Indonesia. Before independence, Indonesia consisted of over 13,000 islands with more than 700 languages and dialects and in their efforts to unify the country, Indonesia’s founding fathers succeeded in creating a national language and a national culture beside the many regional languages and cultures still in existence in Indonesia today. The novel describes how the national language was forged and in which Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana who is portrayed as Hidayat in the novel, played a significant role. As a historical novel most of the Indonesian and Dutch characters in the story are based on real people and true events.
The book also describes in depth the Japanese culture and society of WW II which at the time shocked the world by its rapid defeat of the centuries-old Western colonial powers in Asia. With sensitivity Takdir describes how Japanese society was able to do this as well as the price that its people had to pay in order to be able to do so through the eyes of Okura, a Japanese officer raised in the Samurai traditions and later the writer also shows the gradual transformation in Okura’s thinking as Japan is slowly defeated.
Takdir’s descriptions of Japanese culture and Indonesian society of that period are in fact an ardent defense of democracy. He strives to show why merely taking over the science and technology of the West without many of the universal values underlying them is not sufficient.
Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana was born in 1908 and has been described as one of Indonesia’s foremost Renaissance men. He helped found the avant garde literary magazine Pujangga Baru which promoted a new style of literature and language to reflect the new sense of national unity and awakening that were expressed in the Youth Pledge of 1928 to be one nation, one people and to have one language. He played a prominent role in Indonesia’s Cultural Polemics of the 1930s and later turned his attention to the creation of a world culture inclusiveness.
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Photo: collection Tropenmuseum