To commence with an understatement, Pramoedya Ananta Toer never had much luck with the administrations in his native Indonesia. Born in Java in 1925, to parents dedicated to the nationalist cause, he suffered detention and imprisonment as a political prisoner under first the Dutch, then the regime of President Sukarno and finally, for a period of more than fourteen years, under that of President Suharto.
Interestingly, while Mr Toer is probably better known outside Indonesia for his longer literary works, within the country it is his skill as a writer of short stories for which he is most lauded. Short stories, novellas and poetry are as highly valued if not more so in Indonesia as novels, a reality not surprising considering the orality of the culture.
The collection All That Is Gone brings together eight of the author’s early short works. The orality aforementioned is evident throughout. The titular story demonstrates this in the way it plays repeatedly on the refrain ‘all that is gone’ or ‘but that is gone’ or ‘things that have gone’ in much the same way that a spoken word poet might reprise lines or singers of popular songs will revert to a chorus. It is a tale that could easily be read aloud.
The tonal flourishes are few, the description simple, in all pieces though that takes nothing away from these slices of life, set as they are against an often brutal backdrop in a country unclear where it wants to go and devastatingly unsure of its place in the Asian region let alone the wider world.
Sri, the game and incredibly resilient heroine of Acceptance, the longest of the eight stories, remarks at one point: “If I’ve learned one thing from all that we’ve gone through, it’s that you can overcome anything if you can learn to forget about yourself. Pretend you’re not even there, and all the suffering vanishes.” The same spirit – even leavened with occasional irony – infuses All That Is Gone and, needless to say, the author’s striking life. He died in 2006.