Thursday, January 01, 2004

Child at a Night Fair

Child at a Night Fair

For some reason I chose Pramoedya's It's Not an All Night Fair--the English translation of Bukan Pasar Malam, as the first book to read this year. Maybe it's because the book is rather thin, and it has been lying in my hotel room for some time. Maybe it's because it is about a journey home...

The book is a rather sad one--a semi-autobiographical account of a man's journey home to see his ailing father. Though it is a fictional account, there are many parallels between the events in the book and Pramoedya's life, as recounted in the Mute's Soliloquy: That book brought tears to my eyes when I first read it--especially the chapter about his mother's death.

One whole month of laborious technical writing has made my mind dry and rigid; I needed a dose of pathos badly to moisten my soul again. Pramoedya is a good choice because he never fails to touch me with his sensitive protrayal of the working class.

In It's Not an All Nights Fair, the protagonist has to borrow money in Jakarta to make the train journey home to Blora in East Java. After visiting his father in the hospital, he realises that his family house is also crumbling from age. An elderly neighbour gently reminds him that "if a house is falling apart, the people who live in it are falling apart too". Out of a sense of guilt and responsibility for his family home, he decides to repair the house. Again the problem of money haunts him...

In The Mute's Soliloquy, Pramoedya wrote how he spent whatever money he got from his writing to repair his family home but his wife was not happy about it. Pramoedya's sense of responsibility to his family after his parents' death was a constant source of argument with his first wife then, who felt that he was spending too much unnecessary money and attention on them. It wasn't a very happy marriage--one that inevitably ended in divorce. It was then that Pramoedya moved out from his in-law's house in Kampung Kebon Jahe Kober. (I wrote about my visit to that house in a previous blog entry)

I'm still in the process of reading "It's Not an All Night Fair" and will probably finish it by tomorrow. After that I'm not sure what I'll be reading. Now that I'm free from my work, I feel like a child at a night fair--a world of delights has just opened up itself to me. It sure feels good to be a child again, well at least for a month.

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