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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Loss of Memory in Pahlavi Prisons

In total, [I was in prison] about 6 years in two arrests. For the first time after several years, a soldier arranged my escape. I do not know why! Maybe he was one of the influential elements of Islamic groups. They took me to the hospital for the treatment of my hand, which was broken due to the callousness of an officer.

Hajj Pilgrimage

I went on a Hajj pilgrimage in the early 1340s (1960s). At that time, few people from the army, gendarmerie and police went on a pilgrimage to the holy Mashhad and holy shrines in Iraq. It happened very rarely. After all, there were faithful people in the Iranian army who were committed to obeying the Islamic halal and haram rules in any situation, and they used to pray.

A section of the memories of a freed Iranian prisoner; Mohsen Bakhshi

Programs of New Year Holidays
Without blooming, without flowers, without greenery and without a table for Haft-sin , another spring has been arrived. Spring came to the camp without bringing freshness and the first days of New Year began in this camp. We were unaware of the plans that old friends had in this camp when Eid (New Year) came.

Attack on Halabcheh narrated

With wet saliva, we are having the lunch which that loving Isfahani man gave us from the back of his van when he said goodbye in the city entrance. Adaspolo [lentils with rice] with yoghurt! We were just started having it when the plane dives, we go down and shelter behind the runnel, and a few moments later, when the plane raises up, we also raise our heads, and while eating, we see the high sides ...