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The Buru Quartet (Indonesian: Tetralogi Buru) are a four-part epic by Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Originally dictated to his fellow prisoners during his term in the political prison island of Buru, Toer laboured to ensure its survival and eventually managed to have the publishing house Bintang Timur put forth the first book, This Earth of Mankind (Indonesian: Bumi Manusia) in 1980, only to have the ruling New Order ban it from circulation shortly afterwards for "Marxist-Leninist subversion". Subsequent books, Child of all Nations (Indonesian: Anak Semua Bangsa, 1981), Footsteps (Indonesian: Jejak Langkah, 1985) and House of Glass (Indonesian: Rumah Kaca, 1988) similarly met swift banning, threatening to prematurely rid the Indonesian language of what would become perhaps one of its most well-known works. Fortunately however, foreign publishers were quick to take notice: Australian Embassy staff Max Lane worked on an English translation, and soon enough, the series gained more relative fame in a myriad of foreign lands than most of its local counterparts could have imagined. Long story short, awards poured in through Toer's metaphorical doorstep, regional PEN societies took the writer as their own, and somewhat recently, the series finally began to regain its place in the Indonesian public consciousness.

The story itself begins in colonial East Java, as the nineteenth century draws to an end. Minke, the main character, is a teenage son of a wealthy Javanese aristocracy and a successful HBS student, a rare feat among natives. Minke grows up in awe of European might, fostering an appreciation for Dutch literature and spending his spare time writing for a Dutch-language newspaper under the pseudonym "Max Tollenaar". All seems well enough until he runs into Nyai Ontosoroh, the nominal concubine of wealthy Dutch businessman Herman Mellema who in reality runs his entire company together with their beautiful Indo daughter Annelies while her elder son Robert looks upon his presence with great suspicion. Soon enough, Minke's previously innocuous life ends up in a tangled web of romance, rejection and race politics, setting him on a journey of self-discovery between differing cultural realms.

Tropes used in Buru Quartet include:


  • Asian Baby Mama: To some extent. Throughout This Earth of Mankind, Minke's neighbour, French ex-soldier Jean Marais works on a painting of a Dutch colonial soldier standing over a helpless Acehnese moment with bayonet fixed. The painting, in fact, is of himself and the mother of his Indo daughter May, who supposedly asked him to kill her to preserve her purity and was later killed by her own brother for their affair.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Well, not voluntarily, but still.
  • Category Traitor: Minke's family, especially his mother, repeatedly chastise him for being indifferent toward Javanese traditions and insisting on writing in Dutch instead of Javanese. His Dutch Literature teacher Magda Peters, meanwhile, is mocked for her liberal beliefs regarding the natives of Dutch East Indies and eventually pressured by the colonial government to leave.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Minke's name originated from a Dutch teacher's Last-Second Word Swap on a racist insult (monkey).
  • The Gay Nineties/The Edwardian Era
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Concerns regarding the state of literacy in Indonesia are apparently not entirely unfounded.
  • Grade School CEO: After her father's descent into the slippery slope, Nyai Ontosoroh pulled Annelies out of school to help run his company, postponing her own childhood until their encounter with Minke.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Minke was apparently compelled to document the story during his wedding with Annelies, which is quite understandable.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Pramoedya Ananta Toer's own sentiments regarding the state of literary appreciation in Indonesia is blatantly obvious throughout, as evidenced by Minke's inexplicable intention to work as a writer instead of a government official.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Nyai Ontosoroh, AKA Nyai Buitenzorg, after Buitenzorg Boerderij, Herman Mellema's company. Her real name is later revealed to be Sanikem. Minke also counts.
  • Race Fetish
  • Sanity Slippage: Herman Mellema started out as a caring master and patient teacher to his teenage mistress Sanikem, gaining her respect over her own power-hungry parents, only to descend into the slope soon after his legitimate Dutch son, a renowned engineer, confronts him for running off and starting a new life with a native woman. By the events of This Earth of Mankind, he has grown rather distant.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Minke's Indo landlord Telinga and Jean Marais fought together for the colonial government in Aceh prior to the events of the story.
  • White Man's Burden: Sarah and Miriam de la Croix grew up with this belief and are quite eager to act as Minke's mentors.
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