In relating the tale of The Girl from the Coast, Pramoedya Ananta Toer has created a poignant and moving portrait of courage. Inspired by his grandmother's unique life struggle, the author also lends his personal perspective as a dissident Indonesian, imprisoned for years for his own beliefs, a fight for independence for the commoner, long oppressed and exploited by a repressive government.
Known to the reader only as "the girl", this amazing young woman shines throughout the pages with an irrepressible spirit. Taken from her simple fishing village for an arranged marriage to a city nobleman, the girl finds herself in an untenable situation with no skills to cope with her unfamiliar new environment. To her dismay, she learns eventually that hers is only a "practice" marriage, not binding at all should the "Bendoro", or master, choose to divorce her. Her husband becomes the central figure in her world, and her days are spent awaiting his visits; her entire world depends upon his good will alone.
This is a story about powerlessness, the impoverished versus the privileged in a society that turns a deaf ear to anyone not of noble birth. But the girl is extraordinarily courageous in the face of terrible choices and heartbreaking circumstances, yet hopeful, for her spirit burns brightly.
The Girl from the Coast is sprinkled throughout with intimate descriptions that draw the reader into the somber air of the very rooms the girl inhales in her solitude. This novel flows with energy. We witness the girl's plight as she is thrust along a path into the future, one preordained by a system that denies the humanity of the disenfranchised. In spite of her trials, she triumphs as the embodiment of the will not only to survive, but to know contentment.
With Toer's pen the country comes alive, his vital prose full of love for the people and the land, establishing the bond of commonality found in all humanity. His seductive language is as fluid as poetry: "At that moment it was only the dancing wind that ruled the world. Time moved forward, sometimes creeping slowly, sometimes advancing in wild leaps". The Girl from the Coast will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned.