One of my favorite activities that I rediscovered after graduated was reading for pleasure. I fully subscribe to the clichés about books bringing us to new, exciting worlds and helping us discover our own selves more deeply. That said, much like movies, most books only provide temporary entertainment, lacking any noticeable imprint in our minds. At least, rarely much beyond a vague “like” or “dislike” in the back of our minds.
Every once in awhile, however, we come across a work that not only lingers in our conscience, but occupies it. We learn something profound or even gain a new perspective on an old topic. Most importantly, art like this can inspire and set an entirely new tone in life.
I came across one such book in Surabaya. It’s an Indonesian novel titled “This Earth of Mankind” by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. It decries the extreme injustices of Dutch colonialism in Nusantara (the Indonesian archipelago). Even as a translated story about a late 19th century Dutch colony, the book so eloquently and emotionally calls attention to almost universal societal issues such as the evils of imperialism (in any form), institutional racism, women’s rights, sensationalist media and oppression in general (government as well as social).
While Toer’s main focus is the hopelessness against and injustice by the colonial power, I also picked out a slight glimmer of hope in the text through his emphasis on literary activism. The book itself is an example of such, speaking out against oppression and societal issues that persisted even after colonial rule.
I have a particularly strong faith in the power of words. They run society. Depending on which ones we choose, and how we use them, we can create or destroy anything, tangible or not. Therefore, as words easily serve evil, they just as readily support good. People with superior control of their language can and should use it to improve society.
Toer shares my belief, and shows it by emphasizing the control words have over the forces of society. Language becomes far more potent than physical force. The metaphorical battles in the story take place in the form of debates, law, and newspapers, all of which rely on carefully crafted statements that can properly undermine the opponents’. Minke, the protagonist, embodies this message, portraying writing as an honorable and necessary method in effecting positive social change.
Reading this rekindled a recently dormant passion for my own self to be influential through writing. I consider it one of my strongest, albeit still unrefined, skills. Despite the soul-crushing end (heads up), I still felt energized and ready to use this powerful tool in my own way.
What will I do with it? No idea. I’m still in the stages of lofty idealism, grasping for ideas and direction. When I find something, I’ll know.
In the meantime, read the book. You won’t be disappointed.