Mon, 22 Mar 1999

Pramoedya dreams of traveling abroad

JAKARTA (JP): He has tried on a new suit in anticipation, but internationally acclaimed author Pramoedya Ananta Toer remains doubtful he will be permitted to attend an academic award presentation at an American university in May.

Pramoedya, 74, a frequent nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature, said he was mentally prepared if the government refused to permit him to leave the country.

"It is difficult to imagine that I will be allowed to make an overseas trip because I have been prohibited from leaving the country since 1960," he told The Jakarta Post in an interview at his residence in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta, on Saturday.

Released from prison in 1979, Pramoedya's travel ban was officially lifted in 1997. However, on Friday immigration officials would not respond on whether he was free to travel abroad.

Director General of Immigration Muhammad Mudakir only stated that 9,417 people were barred from leaving the country.

Pramoedya said the government had yet to issue his passport.

He is scheduled to receive a honorary doctorate from a university, which he declined to name, on May 1 for his contributions to literature.

He has also accepted an invitation from New York's Fordham University to attend a one-day symposium next month and the book launching of the English version of his memoir, The Mute's Soliloquy, on April 24.

"My new suit is quite expensive, originally I wanted to buy a more luxurious one," he joked. His wife, Maimoenah, and his book editor Joesoef Ishak are to accompany him.

His quartet of novels -- This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass -- were written during detention on Buru island. They were published in the 1980s.

He was jailed for 14 years without trial for links to the literary wing of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). He spent 10 years at a prison camp on Buru in the southern part of Maluku.

"Do you think we really have the chance to go abroad?" Maimoenah asked the Post. She said she bought several new kebaya (traditional blouses) for their scheduled 69-day trip which would also include stops in Vancouver in Canada and the Netherlands.

The father of nine and grandfather of 15 said the family lived on foreign royalties from his works.

"In the past, most of the royalties came from the Netherlands, but now the sales of my books in the U.S. are more promising," he said.

Maimoenah hoped the government will inform them of the status of Pramoedya's travel ban before their scheduled departure on April 4.

"It would be very embarrassing after saying goodbye to our children only to return home a few hours later," she said.

Asked about the difference in his livelihood under President B.J. Habibie from the regime of his predecessor Soeharto, the author said: "Under Soeharto my books were banned but now most bookstores sell my books without any fear."

However, he complained that local pirating of his works prevented him from earning royalties. (prb)