Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

“She was only fourteen at the time, a wisp of a thing. Her profile, the line of her nose, was nothing extraordinary, but she was attractive, nonetheless, with honey-coloured skin and slightly slanted eyes.”

The Girl from the Coast (Gadis Pantai), a fisherman’s daughter, attracts the attention of the Bendoro, a Javanese nobleman. And she is soon married.

“The day before, she had been married, in proxy manner, with a dagger representing her husband-to-be. At that moment, she had become aware that she was not her father’s baby anymore. She was now the wife of a keris, a dagger standing in for a man she had never seen.”

She eventually learns that she is just a ‘practice’ wife, a rehearsal for the real marriage, which only counts when he weds a woman of the same class. And that she is not the first. The rest were kept around until they produced offspring.

Her life revolves around her husband, her master. She spends her time in an empty house, with only a servant for company (the rest of the household staff more or less avoid her, as do her husband’s nephews who live and study there).

It is an isolate, lonely life, but the Girl has an indomitable spirit.

When the Girl from the Coast (we never know her real name) returns to her little seaside village to visit her family, she realises how much her life has changed, and how the villagers, even her family, perceive her  – as a royal, a celebrity, one featured in their folk songs, to be fawned on and admired.

The Girl from the Coast is a moving tale of courage, of class differences. The beauty of the author’s native Indonesia is weaved into its fabric. And it is all the more poignant when one realises that this is the story of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s grandmother.

Toer originally meant for this to be the first book of a trilogy, but the other two manuscripts were destroyed by the Indonesian military (he was a political prisoner and his books were banned by the Suharto government. He wasn’t even allowed a pencil when imprisoned on Buru island but managed to orally compose his famous Buru Quartet – This Earth of MankindChild of All NationsFootsteps, and House of Glass).

Toer’s major works

Kranji-Bekasi Jatuh (1947)
Perburuan (The Fugitive) (1950)
Keluarga Gerilya (1950)
Bukan Pasar Malam (1951)
Cerita dari Blora (1952)
Gulat di Jakarta (1953)
Korupsi (Corruption) (1954)
Midah – Si Manis Bergigi Emas (1954)
Cerita Calon Arang (The King, the Witch, and the Priest) (1957)
Hoakiau di Indonesia (1960)
Panggil Aku Kartini Saja I & II (1962)
The Buru Quartet
– Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) (1980)
– Anak Semua Bangsa (Child of All Nations) (1980)
– Jejak Langkah (Footsteps) (1985)
– Rumah Kaca (House of Glass) (1988)
Gadis Pantai (The Girl from the Coast) (1982)
Nyanyi Sunyi Seorang Bisu (A Mute’s Soliloquy) (1995)
Arus Balik (1995)
Arok Dedes (1999)
Mangir (1999)
Larasati (2000)


    1. So many books indeed! I really hope to read more of Toer’s works, and find more Indonesian writers to read (unfortunately, I am unable to think of any at the moment).


      1. It is hard to find out what’s good and worthwhile in Indonesian literature. Most of the chat from Indonesian readers on GoodReads seems to be from young women who have read this for school but prefer lighter styles for leisure reading. There is a journal of SE Asian writing around somewhere, but what I really want is an Indonesian blogger who writes the same kind of reviews as we do, telling the world about books that are good to read in a non-academic way. Oh, and (even though I can read Bahasa Indonesia, slowly, and with a dictionary handy) it needs to be in English, to gain a wider audience.


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