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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Max Havelaar by Multatuli


Book Review
Max Havelaar
Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
 by Multatuli
p. 1860

  This book was the hardest get on the list of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, 2006 edition. According to my bibliography, I read books published in a the same year in September of last year.  That is almost nine months of trying to obtain a copy to read.  I finally located my copy at Powell's Book Store in Portland, which is the most amazing book store in the world.  The only Book Stores that come close are those on Charing Cross Road in London, and maybe the sadly defunct Cody's in Berkeley.  I could literally spend a lifetime in Powell's, and never get bored.  I've got a long history of hanging out in book stores and libraries, and it's fair to say that I regard the libraries of my youth with something regarding the same pleasure that a professional athlete regards the playing fields of their youth, and these days book stores are the closest I get.

I didn't end up purchasing Maldoror by Lautreamont

         Max Havelaar is translated from the Dutch (strike 1)  and it's a "novel of social significance" (strike 2;)  strike 3 maybe are the very characteristics that made it interesting to me: a diversity of narrative voices and a willingness to insert lengthy poems and songs into what is supposed to be a book at the injustices suffered by the natives of Indonesia under their Dutch overlords in the early to mid 19th century.

 Havelaar is a higher ranking official in the Dutch Colonial Empire, but he is not happy about it.  Much the same way George Orwell would a century later, Eduord Dekker (the true name of author Multatuli,) used his time serving as an administrator in a colonial empire to criticize the injustices of the same regime.  According to the translator penned afterword in this edition, Dekker experienced the same events that Max Havelaar does in the book.

  Havelaar essentially seeks to expose certain unjust practices that the natives suffer at the hands of their (native) Administrators.  Specifically, the native overlords force the citizens to plant cash crops for free and then take those crops as their "due" and leave the natives to starve.  Havelaar is rewarded for his valiant attempts by being ostracized and fired.  Apparently, he never got over it.

  Besides the direct and obvious comparison to Orwell the other author to mention is Joseph Conrad.  Max Havelaar takes place in essentially the same universe as Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, and this book reminded me of that one.  Multatuli/Dekker has a more eccentric narrative voice then Conrad.

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