Pramoedya’s It’s Not An All Night Fair

Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s It’s Not And All Night Fair is one of those books where very little happens–a man travels from Jakarta to his home village in Java to see his father, who is fatally ill–and yet I couldn’t put it down. It paints the portrait of a complex father-son relationship in modern-day Indonesia. The father fought for independence from the Dutch, chose to stay in his village, and has clung to his ideals, while the narrator has only known the corrupt rule of Sukarno, has moved to the big city, and is mostly preoccupied with making it. Once, the father had been offered a chance to join a local assembly, which would have meant he could have become part of the ruling elite, but he refused the appointment: “The local assembly is only a stage. And I don’t fancy becoming a clown–even a big clown.” By contrast, the son worries about the cost of everything, and describes his salary as being ” only enough to allow you to go on breathing.” We get a picture of a country in which hopes of a better life after independence have been dashed, and where the older man has more aspirations than the younger one. The prose is very plain, but the images are striking. On a long evening, for example, we are told that “the night outside went on swallowing the span of men’s lives.” The book stayed with me.

It’s Not And All Night Fair was originally published in 1951, translated from Bahasa Indonesia by C.W. Watson in 1973, and finally released in the United States last fall.