by Ina Rilke and David McKay (translators) & Multatuli
Max Havelaar was published in 1859 by a Dutchman—Eduard Douwes Dekker—under the pseudonym Multatuli, Latin for ‘I have suffered much.’ It was a semi-autobiographical work written to bring to light the terrible abuses occurring in Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule.
Its effect was sensational. “The Book that Killed Colonialism” was the headline of a piece by Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer in the New York Times in 1999 — a brilliant article that also appears as the introduction to the NYRB Classics edition of Max Havelaar (2019) pictured on the right.
“The publication of Max Havelaar in 1859 was nothing less than earthshaking. Just as Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave ammunition to the American abolitionist movement, Max Havelaar became the weapon for a growing liberal movement in the Netherlands, which fought to bring about reform in Indonesia.”
"The Book that Killed Colonialism" by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, New York Times, April 18, 1999