My favorite Pramoedya novel

I was absorbed by Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s The Girl from the Coast (Gadis Pantai, 1962), his grandmother’s story slightly fictionalized. The girl whose beauty is reported to a local Javanese official (serving under a Dutch Resident) never has a name, even when she begs her parents to call her by her name rather than the “master’s wife” (bendoro’s wife). Her parents don’t quite sell her (like the concubine heroine of the Buru Quartet), but the pale and slender man has had children by a series of discarded wives before this one, and, when she produces a gir, hel divorces her though refusing to allow her to take her daughter with her.

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Bora reminded me that a man can divorce a woman by saying “I divorce thee” (four times if I recall) and she must leave immediately. The only insurance is jewelry on her body, which accounts for the weight of bracelets sometimes reaching the armpit. The bendoro of the novel gives enough money to buy two boats to the father of the girl, whom he summoned to take her back, and all the clothes and jewelry she had acquired, though all she cared about was the daughter he had not even bothered to look at, but whose ownership he was unwilling to consider relinquishing. (No child of his could be raised a country bumpkin like her mother…)

I found the novel more gripping than the Buru Quartet. It was the first of a trilogy of novels about the Independence Movement and the author’s family. The other two were destroyed.

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There is a wise old servant woman who is sent away after one of the Dutch-educated sons of the master steals money from the girl, and a treacherous aristocratic woman whose mission is to get the master married to an aristocratic Javanese women (being a divorcée, she is out of the running herself). Her fate is interesting as is that of the fishing villager afraid to go out to sea…

The novel moves right along without any of the disquisitions that slow down the Buru Quartet.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

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