How I Met Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Person

Pramoedya Ananta Toer is one of the most known and for Indonesia certainly one of the most important writers. Roel van der Veen, Head of the Political Department of the Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta, was able to build a special relation with him, which he will tell about.

©Dutch Embassy Indonesia

‘During my first posting in Jakarta in the nineties, I had the honor to get to know Pramoedya Ananta Toer during several occasions where we met in person. From there we developed a special friendship.’

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (6 February 1925 – 30 April 2006) was an Indonesian author of novels, short stories, essays, polemics and histories of his homeland and its people. His works span the colonial period under Dutch rule, Indonesia's struggle for independence, its occupation by Japan during the Second World War, as well as the post-colonial authoritarian regimes of Sukarno and Suharto, and are infused with personal and national history (source: Wikipedia, click here to read more on his background).

He wrote over more than 40 novels. Although many of his books disappeared, they were taken by security forces or destroyed, the library of Erasmushuis has still many copies available.

“When I tried to contact Pramoedya, someone told me that he lived in Jakarta and he could easily be contacted by just phoning him. That is what I did, however it was not easy talking on the phone because he was deaf on one side.”

“Later, Pramoedya occasionally invited me to his house, which was really interesting for me. President Soeharto was electrifying to me but Pramoedya was different. He behaved like any other normal man, very kind without any pretentions. We discussed all kind of topics, however I avoided very heavy themes because it was not my intention to interview him. To me it seemed that Pramoedya also valued our conversations, maybe because to him I came from the outside world where he was not much in contact with.”

“In my opinion he had a surprisingly mild character after all he went through in his life. He had been part of the hard side of life but it looked like it made him stronger instead of bringing him down.”

“In 1995, my posting came to its end. I was about to leave Jakarta and going back to the Netherlands. My manager organized me a farewell party to say goodbye to all my Indonesian contacts. I remember it very well that Pramoedya arrived accompanied by his daughter and grand-daughter. He joined the whole evening talking to the other people that attended, it looked like he had a very pleasant time.”

“Later that evening, we were surprised by heavy thunder. Luckily, the evening continued inside. It was already late when Pramoedya was about to leave, and saying farewell to me. He pointed his finger to the dark clouds, saying: The weather was a sign of the gods, they were present too.”