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Friday, November 23, 2007


It's one packed literary Saturday in Kuala Lumpur. Just take a look at this post by Sharon, almost feels like a mini-lit fest. I'm tempted to get there myself. Would love to hear everyone, though for this post I want to single out Max Lane who will be launching his book Arok of Java at Silverfish Books.

Max Lane is the translator of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's work. His is a literary journey that started almost by accident:
"It’s a long story with a short beginning. Basically I failed the subject of science in High School and the Headmaster said you have to have an additional subject and the only one that was available for me to take at that time was Bahasa Indonesia. Combined with the fact that I loved watching movies set in the exotic Orient, I started studying Bahasa. And the first opportunity I got, I packed my bags and started traveling. In fact, the first countries I visited were Indonesia and Singapore way back in 1969. Then I just got more and more involved in Indonesia and I haven’t quite been able to break that connection which started with learning a language and I don’t want to break that connection either."

Lane's long association with Pramoedya began in 1981 with the translation of 'This Earth of Mankind.' And that association has continued even after his death. 'Arok of Java' - the fifth book translated by him is based on an Indonesian folk tale about a rebellion against a 13th-century Javanese king, but it's a story that is bound to connect readers across the world, Max believes:
"It is a story about Indonesia 500-600 years ago. But it is also very much a story about power and about how human beings can become either victims of power or wielders of power and how their personalities can then change as a result of wielding that power and I think that’s something of universal interest."

Also of universal interest is the writer Pramoedya himself and one couldn't ask for a better narrator of the truth than Lane himself:
"Despite all the things he had suffered, Pramoedya was absolutely in love with his country and absolutely obsessed with getting its real history out. So every time you sat with him, you’d have a treasure trove of information and stories, which you would never hear or getting from anyone else."

Lane could be speaking for himself, he's got stories stacked and I want to hear more of them:
"You know, once he’d written his own manuscript, he’d never read it again. That was quite amazing. I saw some of the manuscripts Pramoedya wrote while he was in prison. He typed on a really old, dilapidated type-writer. The papers had no left hand margin, no right hand margin because paper was so difficult to get in prison. He typed the whole 800 page novel without a single typing mistake, without making an editorial correction to it, before it went to publication and never read the manuscript the second time. He’d say, “I can’t read it, I can’t read it.” He’d say once he’d written it, it was a being of its own, it had its own life. He never quite gave a convincing reason why he never re-visited his work but he created something that was perfect the first time round. I think that was one of the many things that was totally amazing about him. I think South-East Asia should be enormously proud to have such a genius author amongst its ranks."

And what touched me even more was Lane's frank admission about issues of loss in translation:
"I don’t think any translation can live up to the original, particularly when it’s written by a true master."

It sure makes me want to hear more of Max Lane and I'm pretty sure we all will. He'll be appearing at the Ubud Writers Festival next year. I can already hear the conversations.

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