Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
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
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.
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.