I Have Suffered MuchOctober 23rd, 2012
My latest Dutch discovery is Multatuli. For those who don’t speak Latin (“I have suffered much”), that is the histrionic pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who in 2002 was declared by the Society for Dutch Literature to be the most important writer in the country’s history. His magnum opus, “Max Havelaar,” is wildly fresh and modern in its language and humor–almost postmodern. At one point, for example, the narrator actually hands the reader his business card. Which is all the more striking considering it was published in 1860.
Multatuli’s fame derives from this book, which had an impact on the world that few novels not written by J.K. Rowling have had. Dekker shipped out to the Dutch East Indies at age 18, and rose in the colonial administration until he reached the point where he saw the nature of that system. It was built on a complex web of abuse and corruption, which involved Dutch officials enmeshed with Indonesian aristocrats, and which repressed local peasants so as to ensure the supply of trade goods to Europe–even at the risk of famine for the locals.
Dekker wrote his novel to expose the system. The back story is complicated by the fact that Dekker himself was a bit of a maniac, who seems to have set himself up to be a martyr, and may actually not have wanted the book to be published. But it was, and the goal was achieved beyond what he could have imagined. It echoed around Europe, causing the first wave of shock over the system of colonial exploitation.
But forget the history. If you open the book, just expect to have a good time.