Fairdkun's Reviews > Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company

Max Havelaar by Multatuli
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's review
Jan 27, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read in December, 2007

** spoiler alert ** i should begin this review with explaining my position, formed by my cultural + racial background. unlike multatuli, i’m an east indies native, therefore has been educated to see the old-age netherlands kingdom [or insulinde, as the book stated] as the bad side, no matter how much good they have given us since that colonization period, and see ourselves as the right protectors, the natural heirs of our then-colonized land. in short, i’m in a position as a subjek penderita, with a distance towards what was really happening at that time, and in consequence reducing every entities taking part at any occurrence to boxes of predetermined subsets, categories, and divisions: an act of stereotyping.
this book shook that foundation, by telling the true fact that the real purpose of a dutch officer in the east indies were to protect the people from any power abuse, corruption, etc. be it from the foreigner’s side, or more often from their own native chiefs [those pangerangs, dhemangs, + adhipattis], which as many cases in human history the true villainous enemies [a well-read + opinionated female once said to me in the same tone that a woman’s own treacherous enemy is not men-kind, but their own side female of the species, ‘it’s unbelievable how vicious women could be to their own kind’, were her exact words at that time.] about how those very degrading acts has plants their seeds in the country’s culture long before we could call it names, before we even knew what corruption, nepotism, or power abuse was. it’s a story not only about righteousness, work ethics, + the consequences they always bring, but also one that questions the base of morality [i crave for the part where christianity, as a european major morality regulator at that time, was brought up in sneering remarks.]
the book could be read as a story-telling layering process: how multatuli put his own words to the reader via droogstopel, a hardcore conservative capitalist coffee broker, which decided to write a book after recruiting a very young deustche copywriter, stern, who had a never ending adoration towards a man called scarfman’s scattered chaotic pieces of writing. scarfman, a man whose family had been living in famine and poverty as a consequence of his righteousness towards his own heart’s calling [meandering could be more of an exact word at this point], was the original owner of the max havelaar’s story, but sold the right to those aforementioned writing of his because of his financial conditions [i’m guessing that this scarfman was the analogy of multatuli’s condition at the time of writing, while max havelaar served as the latter’s pseudonym –bears the meaning ‘i have endured much’- for telling his professional + personal background.] all of these characters were brought up to light, only to be dismissed [yes, every single one of them! even max havelaar’s + his family fate was left hanging in many possibilities, it’s not an austen fairy tale i tell you!] by multatuli himself by the very end of the book, to make way of his own expression in his own choice of words, his own comments about his own life. this decision was based on reasoning, i think, which was not unlike the one that makes max never addressed verbrugge, his controleur, so he himself –multatuli, i mean- could take full responsibility on his acts, and principles that laid before those very acts.
by choosing to write not in the usual norm of fiction, or even autobiographical writing [i dare to say not even in a contemporary standard!], multatuli had succeeded in conveying what many post-modern writers strive for: open interpretation, and a chance for the reader to value the writer himself, through the piece of the writing, not seeing the piece in question as an independent entity, + asking themselves a lot of questions in the process. he even got the writing style where the writer address so much sentence to the reader, as if he’s capable of the act of mind-reading, a gesture which could be easily tracked down to generalize today’s writers. i don’t know whether derrida has ever laid his eyes on this book, but if i knew him personally, i would advise him to read this book upon reading his ‘on grammatology’, and not only once, as in max havelaar’s own words, this book wasn’t the kind of books that anyone ‘should only read once.’

conclusion: i wonder what will ‘little’ max would be in the sequel?

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