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A Practice Wife’s Story

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The Girl from the Coast

Written by Nell Freudenberger, originally published in New York Times

Aug 11, 2002

One of the most moving sections of the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer's excellent memoir, ''The Mute's Soliloquy,'' contains instructional letters to his children. In ''Music, Sports, Self-Defense and a Story,'' he tells his daughter Yana about a Siberian woman who once gave him a package for an Indonesian man she'd met -- not knowing, Pramoedya assumed, that ''Indonesia was a country of almost 14,000 islands.'' Years later he meets the man on one of the most desolate islands in that archipelago, at the penal colony where Pramoedya was held for more than 11 years under Indonesia's military ''new order'' regime. His written advice to his children (to another daughter: ''You don't have a boyfriend, do you? You're too young for that'') is made especially moving by the fact that the prisoners on Buru Island were only occasionally permitted to write letters, and never to send them.

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