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Asahan Alham, Dendam Sejarah (Everlasting fostering of Revenge). Bandung: Ultimus, 2019, lvi-627 p. ISBN: 978-602-8331-76-0.

Nico Schulte Nordholt
p. 314–317
Référence(s) :

Asahan Alham, Dendam Sejarah (Everlasting fostering of Revenge). Bandung: Ultimus, 2019, lvi-627 p. ISBN: 978-602-8331-76-0.

Texte intégral

1This fist-thick volume with largely literary work of Asahan Aidit (born 1938) was compiled by the editor, Bilven, of the publishing house Ultimus in Bandung, West Java. This publisher specializes in so-called samizdat (underground) Indonesian literature. With this volume the editor intended to commemorate the 80th birthday of Asahan, who, therefore, had no say himself in its content, neither in the choice of the title of this compilation. Even his name, Asahan Alham, instead of his family name, Asahan Aidit, was chosen by the editor/publisher. While, in the very short autobiography added to this volume, Asahan signed as: Asahan Aidit!

2As a younger brother of D.N. Aidit, the last Chairperson of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the greatest communist party outside China and the Soviet Republic till 1965, Asahan had to carry the heavy burden his family experienced. Already for 55 years.

3On September 30th, 1965, one of the bloodiest massacres in human history erupted in the Indonesian Archipelago. An estimated half a million till one million members, or alleged members of PKI, were brutally killed. Amongst others, Asahan’s brother D.N. Aidit. And hundreds of thousands persons, sometimes only just relatives of members, or just alleged members, were imprisoned for many years. In most cases without any form of prosecution.

4Fortunately, Asahan Aidit escaped such a fate due to the fact he happened to study linguistics since 1962 in Moscow. As an exile, his fate was inseparably intertwined with the tragic fate of his family, and to that of the communist party in Indonesia in general. From Russia he fled to Vietnam, where he accomplished successfully his PhD in linguistics in the Vietnamese language. And, since 1984, he lives and writes in a small village near Amsterdam.

5As relative of the Chairperson of PKI, his work as an author was regarded as communist literature. An ideology strictly forbidden during Suharto’s New Order regime, and, notwithstanding the Reformasi in the years after Suharto was forced to step-aside in 1998, till today.

6Therefore, it is a token of civil courage that Bilven dared to publish Asahan’s work to honour one of Indonesia well-known writers who has been forced to live in exile for so many decades.

7This volume, published in 2019, consists of a wide range of literary works: eighty-one (!) poems, of which 11 are added with its Dutch or English translation, and 8 are either in Dutch or English only; approximately 350 haiku, and 37 short stories or articles. In addition to this work by Asahan the editor invited several persons, who are very much familiar with Asahan and his work, to write a kind of introduction. The one Dr. Henri Chambert-Loir wrote is in particular illuminating to this volume. Amongst others, he aptly situates Asahan’s literary work as belonging to a specific genre of autobiography that can best be described as “fictionalization of real facts” or “self-fictionalization” (pp. xviii-xx).

8Next to all of this, this volume has three appendices by which Asahan’s literary work is even more enlightened. One contains an interview with him in the well-known Indonesian magazine Tempo, December 2007. The other two are re-prints of articles in English, respectively on his life as an author in exile, by David T. Hill, and the other one about Asahan’s four novels reviewed by Henri Chambert-Loir. This last article, earlier published in English in Archipel (2016) is followed by its Indonesian version.

9Allegedly, a large part of his late work compiled in this volume Asahan himself had lost due to frequently being hacked by radical Islamic groups who severely oppose so-called communist publications. It was, therefore, a great surprise and relief to the author that by the occasion of his 80th birthday, so many of his own lost ‘literary children’ were revived to him again. And with him, the reader of this voluminous compilation can be relieved and surprised as well that, due to the efforts of the editor, this ‘lost’ part of Asahan’s literary work is now available again, in print!

10Amongst the Indonesian exile literature Asahan’s work is unique. It covers novels, short stories and poems, and also articles mostly dealing with rather controversial items. But the author is in particular unique amongst his fellow authors since, except for his good friend, the late poet Agam Wispi, hardly any other Indonesian writer has ever composed haiku in this language.

11As stated above, not less than 350 haiku (!) are presented in this volume. Although in Indonesian literature, and even more so in the oral tradition, the pantun is a well-known genre, it differs essentially from the haiku. Not only in form, the pantun consisting of four verses while the haiku has three always, but foremost in content. The pantun, being an epigram, often spontaneously erupts during festivities in the form of a competition between several poets or even laymen, the haiku, mostly, expresses emotions that are structured according to strict rules and rhythm. Therefore, for composing a haiku an author needs special skills. In one of his articles in this volume, however, Asahan dealt with these problems of composing haiku in a complete different language and culture than the original Japanese structure stipulates. It turns out that – as in many more spheres of life and views – he has freed himself from the formal strait-jacket of the classical Japanese haiku, and instead of the 5-7-5 rule as number of syllables in each verse, he prefers the flexibility of modern haiku. So, he often switches to other formats. Nevertheless, he nearly always keeps in mind the genuine spirit of haiku, i.e. to “broadly widen the possibility of interpretation to the reader” (p. 417). Hence, for a reader who is sensitive to the rhythm of the syllables of the three verses a haiku consists of, and who is open-minded to its content ‒ as the reviewer is – he will admire many of Asahan’s haiku which contain a strong flavour of humour, although there are also several ones expressing deep bitterness and sorrow.

12Both emotions are, given Asahans trajectory as a writer, also often revealed in his poems and short stories. However, the overarching emotion in his literary work is “revenge”.

13Only after I had read the poem with the same title in this volume (p. 3), could I see how aptly the title for this volume was chosen. Literally, Dendam Sejarah could be translated as: Historic Revenge. However, in my view, this translation does not properly reflect the specific position Asahan Aidit, or for that matter Asahan Alham, claims to possess in his life-journey and amidst his fellow authors in exile. In my reading of Asahan’s literary work “revenge” is not a negative form of energy but a strength to “carry on” (p. 3). Moreover, for Asahan, revenge is a source of inspiration to counter the people’s enemies, as he stated in his very short autobiography (p. v).

14After reading this poem, I prefer to translate Dendam Sejarah as: “Everlasting fostering of revenge”. To illustrate my stand I refer to two strophes (p. 3), and in particular to the last verse of the first strophe, and the last two verses at the end of this poem he wrote in 2008 (English version by the reviewer):

15Dendam Sejarah

16Tak usah kaubelah hatiku
Karena telah kukatakan sendiri
Ini dendam yang belum terbalas
Aku bahagia dan tenang bersamanya
Kan kubawa hingga jasad ini menjadi tanah.
Dendam adalah kekuatan dan cinta
Dendam adalah solidaritas dan masa depan
Dendam adalah naluri persaudaraan yang berbinar
Dendam adalah mahkamah pengadilan dosa

17Aku merasa hidup
Karena aku mengemban dendam.

18Everlasting fostering of revenge

19No need to scrutinize my heart
Because I told myself already
This revenge is not yet repaid
I am pleased and restful
To carry it on till my body will be dust
Revenge is strength and love
Revenge is solidarity and future
Revenge is the instinct of sparkling brotherhood
Revenge is the last judgment of sin

20I feel alive
Because I foster revenge.

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Nico Schulte Nordholt, « Asahan Alham, Dendam Sejarah (Everlasting fostering of Revenge). Bandung: Ultimus, 2019, lvi-627 p. ISBN: 978-602-8331-76-0. »Archipel, 99 | 2020, 314–317.

Référence électronique

Nico Schulte Nordholt, « Asahan Alham, Dendam Sejarah (Everlasting fostering of Revenge). Bandung: Ultimus, 2019, lvi-627 p. ISBN: 978-602-8331-76-0. »Archipel [En ligne], 99 | 2020, mis en ligne le 02 juin 2020, consulté le 22 octobre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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