This is not a novel, and not a biography. This book is a compilation of his diary entries which began on 4th March 1957, when he was 15, and ended with an entry dated 8th December 1969, just 8 days before his early demise. There are missing entries, it seems, from March 1964 to January 1966, and February 1966 to February 1968. I bought this from a roadside bookseller during my trip to Jakarta in March this year.
I encountered a few difficulties reading through this book, and there are many lessons learnt from it, hence I gathered my will to pull through.
As a personal diary, Mr Soe did not need to explain any of the characters in his life, and there are many names mentioned in this diary. There are names that were mentioned repeatedly, but many were mentioned only once or twice, so sometimes I needed to go back to other entries, or the introductory articles written by people who knew him.
There are sometimes no continuation from one entry to another, because, again, writing his own diary, he did not need to explain anything to anyone. One would wonder what happened in between and just try to put the pieces together. But of course there are many things that are connected, for example, his love story with the two (or actually three) ladies mentioned in this book.
As I'm not Indonesian, I barely know anything about the history and political situation there during Mr Soe's life. I had to do a bit of reading about who's who and which party they were from, just to have a rough idea. Luckily I watched the movie Gie before reading this book, so at least I could picture the characters and the history.
Language could be a problem to some non-Indonesian readers, especially when Mr Soe was a young boy. Personally I think I understand the language fairly well, although I did refer to my Indonesian dictionary once in a while.
It is very useful to read the introductory section and press reviews, especially if you want to have a general overview of the political setting at that time. They provide the background scenery to the diary. Commentaries include those by Mr Soe's own brother, Arief Budiman. The press seemed to voice out my own difficulties in going through the book; I was rather relieved that I am not the only one with this experience.
Who is Soe Hok Gie? Why watch the movie or read this book?
I watched the movie for two reasons – one, Nicholas Saputra won Best Actor award from this movie. It seems that he did a lot of research to play the role well. Two, I wanted to know why is this young man so special in the eyes of Indonesians? After reading a little about him from my google search, I felt that I needed to read his book, to at least see what kind of contributions he gave in his short life that is remembered even after decades.
Mr Soe, as a very young boy, has already read literary and history books. His memory and competitive streak was obvious when he recalled the examination marks of all of his classmates in his diary. He was very perceptive and reflective of the people and condition around him. It was still very early in his life that he showed his tendency to fight for justice, when he questioned his teacher about his low marks when he knew he deserved better, or when another classmate was given better marks just because he's another teacher's son.
As he grew up, his language became finer. He wrote to many papers, often sending the articles by hand. He wondered why was there always suffering in this world, and asked the frequently-asked question, "If God exists, why did He allow all this to happen?" I don't think this is the right time to answer that question, and sadly he did not find the answer until the end.
There are entries about his reflections on his relationship with a few women. The story was almost the same with each lady. The women's parents were concerned about their daughter dating (and in the future, marrying) a fighter like him. He quoted, "It feels like a soldier, they love what you do but they don't want their daughters to marry us because of the risks." Yet he could not bring himself to totally cut himself away from all of them – they lingered in his life, coming in and out once in a while. He missed them when they were apart, he would love to have a life partner, to spend time with them like any normal men and women, but he also resigned to the fact that a fighter like him might end up being alone in the end.
As a conclusion, Soe Hok Gie was not entirely a politician, but a young man who was concerned about people around him. He was disturbed that politics had become so dirty, that they made the poor get poorer, and the rich gets richer. He was troubled by the suffering that he saw around him, he could not sit still until he does something about it. He could not ignore them, it was not enough for him to help just one or two persons around him; he wanted to change the masses.
He was a fighter for truth, a fighter for justice.
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This is a clip from the movie Gie, starring Nicholas Saputra:
A translation of an excerpt from this book that I posted a few months back:
Military or Poverty
The reflections I wrote after watching the film Gie:
Mendalami Jiwa Seorang Gie