National Army Museum

Portrait of the Author as a Historian: Pramoedya Ananta Toer

In newly independent Indonesia, nationalism, communism and Islam competed for the attention of the people. But the country’s greatest novelist saw humanity behind the ideologies. 

Image of Pramoedya Ananta Toer. ©  Yusnirsyah Sirin/Zuma/AlamyOn the evening of October 13th, 1965, Pramoedya Ananta Toer was working at home in Jakarta. Already a successful author with many books to his name, he was editing a collection of short stories by President Sokarno of Indonesia. At around 10.30pm, he was disturbed by the sound of angry voices. Peering out of the window, he saw a crowd of masked men, all carrying knives, massing outside his gate. Unless he let them in, they shouted, they would burn the house down. But Pramoedya was not easily intimidated. Grabbing a sword and a broom handle, he rushed out to confront them. He demanded that they unmask themselves. But it only made them angrier. They started jabbing at him through the gate and hurling stones at the house. At any moment, they might break in. Just then, however, a crack of gunfire was heard and a group of policemen shouldered their way through the crowd. They announced that they were there to take Pramoedya to safety. Relieved, he invited them into his house while he gathered his things. Once he was ready, they escorted him back outside. The danger seemed to be over, but as they neared the end of the road, they tied his hands behind his back and put a noose around his neck.

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