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Open Access Biography, history and the Indonesian novel : Reading Salah Asuhan

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Biography, history and the Indonesian novel : Reading Salah Asuhan

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image of Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia

The novel Salah Asuhan (Wrong Upbringing), written by the Indonesian nationalist politician and journalist Abdoel Moeis, has long held an honoured place in the modern Indonesian literary canon. It was originally published in 1928 by Balai Poestaka, the Netherlands Indies government printing house, and by 1995 it had been reprinted twenty-three times. In summary form, it has been studied by generations of Indonesian schoolchildren, and in 1972 it was adapted by Asrul Sani as a successful feature film. Critics and historians of modern Indonesian literature have always regarded Salah Asuhan as a literary milestone. It is admired for the maturity of its author’s literary imagination, as well as the modernity of its language and style. In linguistic terms, it is seen as one of the pioneering literary expressions of the language which was designated as Bahasa Indonesia in the very year of the novel’s publication. It exercises an additional fascination for literary critics and historians because of the circumstances of its publication. The form in which it was originally written is now unknown, for the novel was only published after a lengthy delay and a series of revisions which the author made to the text after seeing his manuscript languish for more than a year under the scrutiny of Balai Poestaka’s editors. As a result, the original conception of Salah Asuhan remains a mystery. Indeed, it is one of the greatest puzzles in a literary history that is so full of documentary lacunae that its serious study remains a source of ongoing challenge and frustration.

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