A great talent that no one was waiting for – De Groene Amsterdammer

Basuki Gunawan

Of course, it is not the case that politics has never before played a role in the circus around narrative literature. In 1953, the poet Ellen Warmond received the Reina Prinsen Geerligsprijs (for young writers aged 20 to 25) for her debut collection experimental garden. Interestingly, a certain Basuki Gunawan for his short story Winarta with honorable mention. In other words, he had recorded the shortlist. His short story Winarta had appeared in serial in the literary magazine The new voice, but no publisher dared to publish it in book form.

When an Indonesian comes up with a short story written in Dutch that takes place during the Indonesian revolution, it is a flawless postcolonial text between all sorts of variants that falls under that heading. In the latest overview work The postcolonial mirror (2021) mentions the preface quests for prose written in Dutch by Indonesians. None of the 26 employees found more than two books written before the Indonesian revolution. Rudy Kousbroek, who complained about the lack of Dutch-language literature written by Indonesians, did not search well at the time either. Strange because The new voice was very aware of (post) colonial writings and amply quoted Basuki Gunawan, who in 1966 complained about racism in the Netherlands against Indonesians (see dbnl

On February 16, Remco Raben, special professor of (post) colonial literature, tweeted about Basuki Gunawan’s short story Winarta: ‘You can read twelve very heavy books on war and revolution, or download a novel.’ He thought the short story was ‘beautiful’. ‘Masterly’ is more appropriate. He suggests this on the one hand The postcolonial mirror, which he has also worked on, has a serious hole; on the other hand, he does not directly advertise the hyped research of Niod, the nimh and kitlvsays Excess Note 2.0, which comes to us in twelve parts, for which you have to pay a lot of money and what you also have to read.

This is the story of a great spirit, for whom life is more than life on earth

There is nothing like fiction. Life is experience. Fiction brings experience. Some Dutch prose has been written about the Indonesian revolution, which often did not appear in the press, and the one that seeks for a while ends up with Lin Scholte, F. van den Bosch, Vincent Mahieu, Paula Gomes, etc., but not with a Indonesian writer and certainly not with one who could easily compete with a young Pramoedya Ananta Toer. A great talent that Holland was not exactly waiting for at the time. They preferred to read tempo-doo prose. Yes, also Indo-Dutch.

What does the book contain? Who wrote it? What was the man joking about here in Holland? Basuki Gunawan was born in 1923 in Central Java and attended the Hogere Indische Kweekschool. After the Japanese occupation, he becomes a member of a guerrilla unit during the Indonesian revolution, which operates against the Dutch ruler. Later he comes to the Netherlands with the first batch of Indonesians on a scholarship, in order to eventually obtain a PhD degree at UvA in sociology, which remains his field. In the early 1950s, he ended up in a sanatorium in Laren, where he wrote the short story Winarta writes (now finally published, by Alphabet). He marries, has two daughters and makes Holland his homeland, though he will always keep his Indonesian passport.

He has not written much. Maybe he would have done it as his short story Winarta found a publisher. The Indonesian revolution, described from an Indonesian perspective, was at least not yet ready for it in 1954, and now in fact only half; people prefer to describe themselves rather than just translate books by Indonesian historians. Yes, the Bush Indian’s Indian dairy cow ‘is still howling.

The short story, or short novel, does not seem to come from a very young, but rather an experienced writer, it is so masterfully constructed and written: a deceptively simple story full of subtle humor, deep reflections and unpleasant scenes. The protagonist finds his parents murdered by a unit of fifteen soldiers, suffers from tuberculosis, barely escapes from the sanatorium, abandons his study plans and reports to a resistance unit. He rises in rank, cuts spies (m / f) with his own hands, shoots members of communist combat units, sabotages an ammunition depot belonging to the ‘enemy’ and goes into hiding with a whore with whom he forgets his aversion to alcohol. . He shares philosophical questions with her, and at her brothel he achieves, so to speak, ‘enlightenment’ (a Buddhist motif). The protagonist constantly questions his acts of war, is clever in all his harshness and never uses the word ‘belandas’ but ‘the enemy’. His hatred is fueled by the assassination of his parents, not by an aversion to the colonial oppressors, and his mindset during his struggle even transcends war. This is the story of a great spirit, for whom life is more than life on earth. This is the sequel to Hella Haasse’s short story Oeroeg from five years earlier, is also of a higher literary order; it has been patiently waiting for seventy years and we are now allowed to read this jewel.

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