This Earth of Mankind was the first novel in the Buru Quartet, a series of historical novels that Pramoedya composed while in the Buru penal colony. It opens Pramoedya’s fictionalized history of the end of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The hero of the novel, a youth named Minke, is from a minor aristocratic family of Java. Minke has aspirations to be a writer, and a number of his works have been published in Dutch-language periodicals. His talents and his somewhat privileged social position have enabled him to attend a high school where all of the other students are of at least partly European ancestry. The snobberies and rejections Minke experiences at the high school begin his movement toward an awareness of colonial inequality, and they also give Pramoedya a means of dramatizing this inequality for readers of the novel.
Minke becomes acquainted with an Indonesian woman named Nyai Ontosoroh. She occupies a position at the margins of both Indonesian and colonial Dutch society because she is the concubine of a Dutch man, Herman Mellema. The Indonesians look down on Nyai Ontosoroh as a concubine. For the Dutch, she can never be a wife or hold a recognized position in the household.
Nyai runs a dairy business and has two half-European children by Herman Mellema, a son, Robert, and a daughter, Annalies. Robert comes to hate Minke, but Minke falls in love with Annalies. He also forms a close bond with the mother, and Nyai urges Minke to...
(The entire section is 454 words.)