Indonesia’s brutal history brought to global attention

Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, authors have tried to broadcast an alternative version the country’s history.

Students demand the resignation of president Suharto in 1998- Paula Bronstein-Liaison

In 1999, as Indonesians were still celebrating the end of 31 years of dictatorial rule by Suharto, their second president, an unemployed philosophy graduate started writing a sprawling novel that blended his fascination for martial arts and horror stories with an acerbic take on his country’s twisted history. (more…)


By : Emeritus Professor Virginia M. Hooker

We are here to celebrate Home : a novel by Leila S. Chudori.

It was  published  in Indonesian in 2012 – with its  English translation by John McGlynn,

published by Lontar in 2015. (more…)

17,000 islands of imagination’: discovering Indonesian literature

It’s the fourth most populous country in the world, yet it is rare to find an English translation of Indonesian literature that doesn’t focus on war or tsunamis. Why, asks Louise Doughty

by:  Louise Doughty’s

I n February last year, I was sitting in Cafe Batavia on Fatahillah Square in Jakarta, talking to an Indonesian friend. We were discussing how any novelist might describe a country to a readership who know nothing about it. We were surrounded by framed photos of Indonesian politicians and Hollywood stars, and the ceiling fans turned overhead. Outside, it was hot and overcast, and students milled around the front of the History Museum, built by the Dutch in 1710 and now housing objects from the founding of Jayakarta in 1527. How could any writer portray such a diverse culture? (more…)

Indonesia’s lost history


Leila S. Chudori
Translated by John McGlynn
495pp. Lontar. Paperback, £12.95.
978 602 9144 36 9
US: Deep Vellum. $16.95. 978 1 941920 10 7

Published: 3 February 2016

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A poster commemorating the victims of the 1965 massacre in Indonesia Photograph: Nobodycorp/Internationale Unlimited


Early in Leila Chudori’s Home, a seemingly minor exchange takes place between Dimas Suryo, an Indonesian activist and political exile in Paris, and Vivienne Deveraux, a young Frenchwoman. We are in the months following the student protests of May 1968, and Vivienne is raging against the “fucked up” state of her country. “To myself”, Dimas reflects:

“I thought that when it came to the state of a nation, she had no idea what ‘fucked up’ meant. Indonesia was rarely covered in the press, not even in leading news media such as Le Monde and Le Figaro. What the typical French person might know is that Indonesia is a country located somewhere in Southeast Asia not too far from Vietnam . . . . Vivienne and her equally agitated friends . . . wouldn’t have heard the names of Indonesia’s political activists who long predated theirs – such as Sukarno, Hatta, Sjahrir and Tan Malaka.” (more…)

Home – Leila Chudori

by Rebecca Hussey


LEILA[Deep Vellum Publishing; 2015]

Tr. by John H. McGlynn

About two-thirds of the way through Home by Leila Chudori (translated by John H. McGlynn), the novel’s two protagonists discuss definitions of the “flâneur,” the figure of the leisurely walker. Dimas Suryo, an exile from Indonesia now living in Paris, offers his preferred definition to his daughter Lintang:

I am most in agreement with the explanation provided by Charles Baudelaire, who said that activity on a journey is the same as a home for the flâneur, like water for fish. Passion and work become one in the activity. A flâneur will forever be looking, and building his home in the flow and motion of movement. He might feel he has left his home, but in fact he built a home in his journey.

Thus Dimas explains his life of wandering to his daughter, and thus does Chudori introduce her central theme: how and whether one finds a home when forced to leave one’s original homeland. Can Dimas and Lintang, both flâneurs, find a home in the journey itself, or do they, in the end, want to return to — or in Lintang’s case discover — their origins? (more…)

Retour vers la 13 467ème île d’Indonésie

Foreword for “Retour”, French translation of “Pulang, a Novel”, translated by   Michel Adine and Éliane Tourniaire, published by Pasar Malam.

Retour vers la 13 467ème île d’Indonésie
Didier Daeninckx
Les Nations Unies considèrent que l’Indonésie est formée de 13 466 îles, mais le roman de Leila S. Chudori s’attache à nous décrire la 13 467ème île qui a échappé au recensement des géographes. Une île minuscule de dix mètres sur douze, située à cinq cents mètres à peine de l’île de la Cité sur laquelle Notre-Dame de Paris prend appui, un territoire microscopique qui n’est visible que par les romanciers (et leurs lecteurs).
Pour comprendre comment un archipel colonisé par les Portugais puis les Néerlandais a ainsi pu égarer l’une de ses composantes, il faut faire un saut de 50 ans dans le passé et feuilleter les journaux jaunis de 1965. Cette année-là, alors qu’au nord de l’Indonésie la guerre du Vietnam fait rage et que la Révolution culturelle enflamme la Chine, l’armée fomente un coup d’État dont le principal objectif est de se débarrasser du parti communiste, l’un des plus puissants du monde avec plus de trois millions d’adhérents. Le général Suharto déclenche la chasse qui n’épargnera aucune ville, aucun village. A la mi-octobre 1965, la capitale Jakarta est nettoyée des éléments marxistes par les commandos parachutistes qui procèderont à des exécutions de masse à Semarang, Solo, Magelang et Wonosobo les jours suivants. Des milices civiles prêtent main forte aux tueurs. Aidit, le secrétaire général du Parti communiste est passé par les armes, sitôt arrêté. Sur l’île de Java, les massacres se prolongent pendant un mois, les rivières, rouges de sang, charrient les cadavres par milliers, avant que les pogroms se multiplient sur l’île de Bali où le responsable du PKI est coupé en morceaux. Les historiens estiment le chiffre des victimes à 500 000 et l’un d’eux, Jean-Louis Margolin, note qu’il est semblable, en proportion, à celui des victimes de la Grande Terreur stalinienne du milieu des années trente. Près de deux millions de personnes furent arrêtées, un grand nombre incarcérées dans des camps de concentration, des procès fournirent des cibles aux pelotons d’exécutions pendant près de vingt ans, et ce n’est que 35 années après la prise de pouvoir du général Suharto que fut supprimée de la carte d’identité le tampon qui spécifiait que son possesseur était un ancien prisonnier politique. (more…)

The year of killing with impunity (Massacres nearly half a century ago still haunt Indonesia)

image1AMONG those watching nervously as Tinseltown celebrates its Academy Awards on March 2nd will be Indonesia’s leaders. They will be hoping that, when it comes to the best documentary category, the Oscar does not go to “The Act of Killing”, a brilliant if deeply disturbing film about the slaughter in 1965-66 that accompanied the birth of the 32-year Suharto dictatorship. Of course, 16 years after the fall of Suharto, no one is suggesting the present government was complicit in the atrocities. But they cast Indonesia in a bad light at a time when it hopes to be cheered as a model emerging democracy. A spokesman for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono accused the film of “simplifying a dark, complicated period of history” and of being one-sided. More pertinently, perhaps, it highlights Indonesia’s own failure even now fully to confront events still shrouded in mystery, ignorance and fear.

The film, directed by an American, Joshua Oppenheimer, follows the now elderly members of 1960s death squads as they recall, re-enact and boast about the killing. Nobody knows how many died. Half a million is a common estimate. Some say many more. Of Asia’s modern killing fields, only Bangladesh and Cambodia compare in the scale of the carnage. In both those places flawed judicial processes at least raise questions about the horrors. Even in China the show-trial of the Gang of Four served to hold a few responsible for the many crimes committed in the Cultural Revolution. In Indonesia no one has been held to account.

The slaughter was a purge of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), accused of attempting a coup, providing the pretext for Suharto’s power-grab. At the time it was the third-largest communist party in the world. It and its ideology were eradicated. The West, watching Asian “dominoes” fall to communism, was largely silent as hundreds of thousands were killed or detained, and welcomed Suharto as an ally. Under Suharto the killings were taboo within Indonesia. History lessons in school skated over them; foreign books on them were banned; the families of victims and political detainees became, says Katharine McGregor of Melbourne University, Indonesia’s “untouchables”. People lived in what Mr Oppenheimer calls a “precarious coexistence” with their families’ murderers.

Any thirst for revenge was tempered by fear and a culture of silence. Take one of Mr Oppenheimer’s Indonesian collaborators (all of whom have remained anonymous for fear of reprisals). He was himself unaware until getting involved with the film of how the terror had affected his own family. The boyfriend of a mysteriously unmarried aunt had disappeared for ever in 1965. A great-uncle had been a PKI member as a student. In 1965 he burned his student card and anything that linked him to this subversive past, including half his books. The man’s own father, a journalist, was tormented by guilt that he did not do enough to protect his leftist friends and in the 1970s sought redemption, helping launch a newspaper that exposed later mass killings. (more…)


Goenawan Mohamad

‘1965’ has become a kind of code to decipher: what Sundanese call a ‘titimangsa’, a code for a catastrophic occurence—something called ‘historic event’—and because of this, always simplifi ed. The murder of a group of generals. The terrifying revenge against the Indonesian Communist Party. The beginning of traumatic change in the history of Indonesian politics.

                We know that ‘1965’ is much more than that. “History is the stride of a heartless giant,” the words in the novel Amba say, in a letter that has been hidden for years beneath a tree on the island of Buru after the writer, a doctor and political prisoner, was murdered. “History removes ordinary people from the records.”

 The novel Amba portrays people who have been removed from the records of 1965—as does the novel Pulang.

For some reason, these two lengthy novels appeared close to each other in 2012. Amba, by Laksmi Pamuntjak, describes in wonderful prose the life of a young woman who is the daughter of a teacher in the small town of Kadipura, the changing and tense atmosphere in Central and East Java, the violent clashes in Yogya, and finally the life of those exiled on Buru Island. Pulang, by Leila S. Chudori, in lively and captivating narrative tells the story of those who were forced to become exiles in Europe, or who were killed in Jakarta, because they were considered to be ‘Communists’—and also their families, friends and children.

 For some reason, it seems that 2012 was the year of remembering. ‘1965’ is the focus. A special edition of the journal Tempo published interviews with those who took part in murdering Communists or those suspected of being Communists around 1965; this was the fi rst time that such reporting had ever been published in Indonesia.

 Then there was the documentary fi lm The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer about the 1965 executioners who were making a fi lm about their own exploits at execution, a documentary at times funny in parody-like way, at times cocky, disgusting, and horrifying—a film that Zen Rs fittingly decribed as “a grotesque picture of Indonesianness.” (more…)