Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681372624
Pages: 336
Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Max HavelaarOr, the Coffee Auctions of The Dutch Trading Company

by Multatuli, introduction by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke and David McKay

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An NYRB Classics Original

March 2019 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.

A brilliantly inventive fiction that is also a work of burning political outrage, Max Havelaar tells the story of a renegade Dutch colonial administrator’s ultimately unavailing struggle to end the exploitation of the Indonesian peasantry. Havelaar’s impassioned exposé is framed by the fatuous reflections of an Amsterdam coffee trader, Drystubble, into whose hands it has fallen. Thus a tale of the jungles and villages of Indonesia is interknit with one of the houses and warehouses of bourgeois Amsterdam, where the tidy profits from faraway brutality not only accrue but are counted as a sign of God’s grace.

Multatuli (meaning “I have suffered greatly”) was the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker, and his novel caused a political storm when it came out in Holland. Max Havelaar, however, is as notable for its art as it is for its politics. Layering not only different stories but different ways of writing—including plays, poems, lists, letters, and a wild accumulation of notes—to furious, hilarious, and disconcerting effect, this masterpiece of Dutch literature confronts the fixities of power with the protean and subversive energy of the imagination.

Read a note on the translation by Ina Rilke and David McKay.

Praise

The new translation is as fresh as if Multatuli had just written it himself. There are great innovations here: the addition of a new introduction by Indonesia’s greatest author, the much-persecuted Pramoedya Ananta Toer – the cover image of an exploding volcano on Java, by the famous Javanese painter, Raden Saleh, a contemporary of Multatuli – also, the use of recent Multatuli scholarship in particular the critical edition by Kets-Vree in 1992 – the inclusion of Multatuli’s own disillusioned notes which he added later in life – a Glossary of Indonesian terms, and a very helpful timeline. All these greatly enrich the book and enable readers of today to better understand this great novel, which – as Pramoedya said – ‘was the book that killed colonialism’.
—Reinier Salverda

Kurt Vonnegut's best metafiction has nothing on Multatuli...This attractive and accessible new translation of Max Havelaar is highly recommended to lovers of satire.
—Taylor Roberts

D. H. Lawrence shrewdly understood Douwes Dekker as above all a satirist and ironist. He wrote...‘The great dynamic force in Multatuli is as it was, really, in Jean Paul and in Swift and Gogol, and in Mark Twain, hate, a passionate, honourable hate.’...Max Havelaar amply confirms this estimation and shows the reader how hatred creates a narrative bridge across two continents...A call, not for an antifeudal insurrection of natives against their abusive chiefs, but rather for the overthrow of colonialism itself.
—Benedict Anderson