A Certain Age: Colonial Jakarta through the Memories of its Intellectuals

A CERTAIN AGE: COLONIAL JAKARTA THROUGH THE MEMORIES OF ITS INTELLECTUALS. By Rudolf Mrazek. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. 310 pp. Hardbound, $84.95; Softbound, $23.95.

Teresa Bergen
Independent Scholar, Portland, Oregon

Much of this book is lovely, especially the voices of the elderly Indonesians recalling the earlier periods of their history. The narrators are of an age where they remember Dutch colonialism, Japanese occupation, a nationalist revolt that brought bloody clashes between Sukarno and communists, and then the Suharto regime. All that together with Java itself, a tropical island with its own long, distinct culture, and there is plenty to remember.
Author Rudolf Mrazek teaches history at the University of Michigan. He spent every university vacation from 1990–2000 in Jakarta, interviewing elderly people who had been educated in the Dutch times (1815–ca. 1920). These intellectuals made up only 0.5 percent of the colony’s population, but had a big effect on ushering in new ideas, including the rising nationalism.
What is most striking about this book is its style and organization. Mrazek makes very unusual decisions for a history book. He provides only brief historical context and avoids biographical introductions when narrators speak. Having a good knowledge of Indonesian history before reading this book would help.

A Certain Age is divided …

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