The century-old national publishing house Balai Pustaka (Bureau of Literature), noted for producing some of the country’s classic novels, has relaunched a special collection of Indonesian literary works on topics ranging from nationalism to folk culture.
The event, aimed at promoting classic titles to readers of all ages, drew a batik-clad, book-smitten audience to the National Museum on Wednesday, including veteran poet and writer Taufiq Ismail.
Taufiq, who helped choose the publications to relaunch, emphasized the importance of recording the events of the early 20th century, when the nation first became a sovereign state.
“By reading the works of these writers, we are made further aware of the issues that affect our nation, presented as literary works, to know our evolution as citizens of Indonesia, the nation’s identity, and complete our perception of the future of our country,” he said.
After careful deliberation, eight works of excellent literary standing were chosen for re-release from the Balai Pustaka collection: “Azab and Suffering” (Merari Siregar), “The Sail Unfolds” (Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana), “Atheist” (Achdiat K. Mihardja), “Wrong Upbringing” (Abdoel Moeis), “Wrong Choice” (Nur Sutan Iskandar), “After Darkness Light Is Born” (R.A. Kartini), “From Ave Maria to Another Way to Rome” (Idrus) and “Sitti Nurbaya” (Marah Roesli).
Balai Pustaka first released these eight books between 1920 and 1949, a time when the country’s cultural identity was being formed in the lead up to independence from the Dutch.
The head of the bureau, Zaim Uchrowi, said at the launch party, “Our aim is to invite people to experience the world of literature because it is through literature and culture that our identity becomes clear to us.”
Ferry Kono, commercial director of Balai Pustaka, said he believed these books had a lot more substance to offer than modern novels.
“The nation’s identity is in these books,” Ferry said. “These days, what people read are novels, which have no elements of nationalism within them. We believe that these books carry the spirit of Indonesia.”
The books have been beautifully bound into a packaging exclusive for the relaunch and presented under the title “Indonesian Cultural Heritage.”
Each book in the series has a gold-plated label with the name “Classic Indonesian Literature” carved into it, and comes with a serial number, hologram and certificate of authenticity.
Noted fabric artist Obin added a final touch to the collectors’ item — an ornamental batik for each volume.
There are 3,000 copies of the limited edition available, costing Rp 2.15 million ($215) per collection.
“These classic books may exist in bookstores but what the Balai Pustaka offers is a premiere edition. They are stories that have historical value, of our struggle to build a nation,” Ferry said.
Zaim said he hoped both book lovers and the general public would be moved to include this premium edition in their collection.
“The works hold our nation’s values as well as human ones and will continue to serve as a reference from one generation to the next. Only then can our nation’s cultural heritage be everlasting and of value to future generations,” Zaim said.
To attract a wider audience, Balai Pustaka has a series of other launch events planned and has gained support from entertainment industry figures who will promote individual titles. They include veteran actor Tio Pakusadewo for “Atheist,” singer Yuni Shara for “Azab and Suffering” and actress Happy Salma for “Sitti Nurbaya.”
Fashion icon Samuel Bagdja, who was among the those at the launch party, said: “We have to love this nation again. It is fine for the young to watch soap operas but they still have to know these literary figures. It is incredible for the Balai Pustaka to revive these books so the young can be touched by them.”
A roadshow from the end of June until the middle of August will be held at convenient locations, such as malls and bookstores around Jakarta, chosen for their familiarity to the public and convenience for younger readers.
“We hope the young don’t think that literature is only for old people to read. Literature is not for a specific audience; it’s for everyone because it talks about the very identity of our nation,” Ferry said, adding that the books were, after all, written when the authors were between 20 and 42 years old.
The relaunch is also aimed at older generations who grew up with the titles. Obin recalls buying books for her children and finding out they had been printed by Balai Pustaka.
“I think it’s fantastic what they’re doing. I’d forgotten about them. So I’m glad to see them again,” Obin said.
The publishing house also plans to launch an English version of the eight books later in the year, to expand readership into other Southeast Asian nations.
June 28: Lamoda Café, Plaza Indonesia
July 4: Times Book Store, Capital Residence
July 11: Times Book Store, Kemang Village
July 18: Gramedia, Grand Indonesia
July 25: Gramedia, Pejaten Village
Aug 1: Galeri Canna,Kelapa Gading
Aug 15: UPH Festival, Lippo Karawaci
Aug 23: Pacific Place
The Indonesian Cultural Heritage book collection is available at balaipustakaonline.com, Katalog Bank Mandiri or Times Book Store for Rp 2.15 million per collection.
PT Balai Pustaka (Persero)
Jl Gunung Sahari Raya No. 4
Central Jakarta 10710
Tel: 021 345 1616,
021 385 5740