For the few of you out there who haven't, at some point in your past, been compelled to read the Great Indonesian Novels of Abdoel Moeis, Mochtar Lubis and Pramoedya Anantar Toer, I now offer you the chance to read one single, compact Great Indonesian Novel as a series of easy to follow (or indeed easy to ignore) blog postings. This work - to be entitled "This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight" - will encapsulate the entirety of modern Indonesian literature, and add some sorely needed gags.
Chapter 1 - May 1905
Ho Li Kow lit his Dutch pipe with a Dutch match, shook the match out, and blew out a cloud of Dutch tobacco smoke. He didn't want to be here at home; he would far rather have been back at the Dutch school, learning Dutch like a modern, civilised man should.
And now his parents were compelling him to marry a native woman. The shame of it! He had always dreamed of marrying one of the Dutch women whose pictures he'd seen in his Dutch magazines. His ideal wife would be one of them, not brown-skinned with splayed feet thrust into peasant sandals, no; she would wear proper European leather boots - also fishnet stockings, latex corset, fluffy handcuffs...
His reverie was interrupted rudely as his mother stormed into the room. He pulled himself together and placed his hat before his groin to conceal his thoughts.
"She is here, Number One Son. You will do the right thing by your family and marry her!"
"But mother - she is a native."
"She is minor royalty. Her family have fallen on hard times. By marrying her we will gain the privileges of royalty."
"And what privileges do native royalty have, mother?"
"Not having their houses burnt down every time there is a riot, idiot boy. Your father may be the second-biggest rice lender in the province, but people still hate us because we are Chinese. You will marry the girl, and you will like it."
Before he could answer, the bride that had been chosen for him walked demurely into the room and knelt before him, trembling slightly. Raden Roro Royabot was but 15 years old, and beautiful as only a native woman could be in this literary genre. In contrast to the pretentious Dutch furniture and European-style clothes of her prospective husband's rich Chinese family , she wore a simple kain panjang and kebaya, her hair arranged in a plain bun and a frangipane behind her ear.
Ho Li Kow looked her up and down dispassionately for what seemed like an age.
"Why do you have a cake behind your ear?"
"I beg your pardon, Lord?"
"You have a frangipane behind your ear. Shouldn't that be a frangipani?"
She lowered her beautiful, dark eyes to the floor in dismay and confusion.
"I am sorry Lord. I did not know the difference Lord. I have only had 10 minutes education, and that mostly at the hands of dyslexic Japanese biker nuns. And in case Lord, that joke doesn't work in Javanese."
"TEN MINUTES?" Li Kow's mother's screech startled them both. "SO SHE IS AN EDUCATED WOMAN! SHE WILL BRING NOTHING BUT TROUBLE!"
Tears began to well up in Royabot's eyes. She bit her lip, determined not to cry. She remembered what her father had told her: "As number 14 daughter, your role in the plot is to be sold to an uncaring husband to pay off our debts in a crude and obvious allegory of colonial economic exploitation. And above all don't cry - if you shed a tear in the rice-lender's house we will be liable for tear-tax which we cannot pay, and we'll have to offer another of your young brothers to Mr Piedovijl in the Provincial Administration in lieu. And we need all your brothers to hold up the roof because we can't afford walls!"
Li Kow put his hands on his hips, looked off to one side and laughed harshly in a way that suggested a cameo role for a superannuated Hong Kong action star in the film adaptation.
"Very well mother - the path of duty is clear. I will marry her, but then mistreat and ignore her in an ironic parallel to the Dutch colonial government's treatment of native people."
Royabot thought longingly of the only man who had ever been kind to her - Min, the simple village goat-carrier. Her tears fell thick and fast now, unheedingly, like chocolate sprinkles onto a kue bandung; only to be smothered in the condensed milk of Chinese pretention, hidden by the chopped nuts of economic necessity and finally folded into the pancake of historical oblivion and scoffed uncaringly by an overweight British tourist on the rain-soaked, night-time streets of Kota Baru. It was all so hideously unfair, just like Dutch rule...
[to be continued]