It’s Not an All Night Fair (Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Trans. William Watson)

by indonotes

In a previous post I mentioned the Indonesia journal and said I would pick out some of my favourite pieces. One of these is a translation of a short work by Indonesia’s internationally best known author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer:

“It’s Not an All Night Fair”, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Trans. William Watson, Indonesia, Volume 15 (April 1973), 21–79.

It is the account of a man returning from the Indonesian capital Jakarta to visit his family and his dying father in the post-independence period. The writing is evocative, delicately interweaving a psychological and family drama, a depiction of Javanese village life, and the tensions between the aspirations and realities of Indonesian Independence. It is one of those pieces of writing that comes back to haunt you (in a good way).

On the one hand, this is a work profoundly involved with the society it emerged from. Frustrations bubble underneath, as when the protagonist muses: ‘In a democratic country you’re allowed to buy whatever you like. But if you don’t have money, you’re only allowed to look at those goods you’d like to have. This too is a kind of victory for democracy.’

But there is also a concern for human dilemmas, of alienation and the struggle to face life and death, as one character wonders: ‘why then do we have to be parted in death? Alone. Alone. Alone. And born alone too. Alone again. Alone again. Why wasn’t this man born in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life and why didn’t he die in the midst of that hustle and bustle? I’d like the world to be an all night fair.’

Of course it is much richer than a couple of paragraphs can reflect, and has been beautifully translated by C. W. Watson.

One other thing to note is that there is also a Penguin paper copy of the translation, for those who prefer the tangible reading experience.