Can One Speak of the September 30th Movement? The Power of Silence in Indonesian Literature

  • Kit Ying Lye


The onset of the Cold War in Europe had its repercussions in Southeast Asia as newly independent Southeast-Asian nations found themselves having to “choose a side” as they re-evaluated their relationships with both communists and their Western alliances. In Indonesia, the Cold War manifested as an extremely violent persecution of communists following a failed coup in 1965. With his assumption of power in 1966, Suharto’s regime actively oppressed and eliminated artists and intellectuals deemed sympathetic to the Left, or who had trespassed any acceptable censorship markers. As such, most of the political fiction that reassessed the nation’s violent past was overlooked until the early 2000s despite the seriousness and urgency inherent in its subject matter.

Despite tight control of the press, historical fiction that critically assessed the socio-political situation in 1965–6 Indonesia was plentiful. The coup in 1965 (or the September 30th Movement) and the bloody nationwide mass murders that followed were common subject matters for authors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Putu Wijaya, Umar Kayam, and Y. B. Mangunwijaya. Most of these authors employ the use of the Wayang and a Javanised Mahabharata as they seek to represent the events of 1965–6 in their attempts to destabilize Suharto’s master narrative of the coup. However, what is particularly interesting and pressing is that which has been intentionally omitted from these works; for these stories and testimonies do not explicitly discuss the 1965 coup, even while they attempt to creatively represent the politicide which followed it. Through a reading of Y. B. Mangunwijaya’s Durga/Umayi and Umar Kayam’s Sri Sumarah and Other Stories, we can begin to understand how Indonesian authors engage with an Indonesian magical realism and, possibly, gain insight into the remembrance of the 1965 coup in Indonesian literature.

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kit Ying Lye
    • 1
  1. 1.Singapore University of Social SciencesSingaporeSingapore

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