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Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of a Dutch Trading Company (Classics) [Paperback]

Multatuli , R.P. Meijer , Roy Edwards
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Aug 1987 Classics

Max Havelaar - a Dutch civil servant in Java - burns with an insatiable desire to end the ill treatment and oppression inflicted on the native peoples by the colonial administration. Max is an inspirational figure, but he is also a flawed idealist whose vow to protect the Javanese from cruelty ends in his own downfall. In Max Havelaar, Multatuli (the pseudonym for Eduard Douwes Dekker) vividly recreated his own experiences in Java and tellingly depicts the hypocrisy of those who gained from the corrupt coffee trade. Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning exposé of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.

Roy Edwards's vibrant translation conveys the satirical and innovative style of Multatuli's autobiographical polemic. In his introduction, R. P. Meijer discusses the author's tempestuous life and career, the controversy the novel aroused and its unusual narrative structure.

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Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of a Dutch Trading Company (Classics) + Noli Me Tangere: (Touch Me Not) (Penguin Classics) + The Village in the Jungle
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (27 Aug 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140445161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140445169
  • Product Dimensions: 18.7 x 12.9 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 359,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Multatuli is the pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887). After 18 years of civil service in the Dutch East Indies, he returned to Europe in 1856 a disillusioned man. The way the natives were treated by their own as well as by the Dutch rulers offended him so much that he resigned after a public conflict. In his novel Max Havelaar he recorded his experiences. The book was published in 1860 and made him an instant success. Encouraged by this public acclaim, he decided to pursue a career as a writer. He became a sort of national conscience, inspiring emancipatory movements such as freethinkers, socialists and anarchists. Multatuli's career as a writer lasted exactly as long as his career as an official: 18 years. Then, once more profoundly disillusioned, he decided to give up writing and took refuge in Germany, where he died in February 1887.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece by Ducth author Multatuli 22 Jun 2002
When I first started reading "Max Havelaar" by Multatuli (latin, ="I have suffered much", pseudonym for Edaurd Douwes Dekker), all I knew was 1) it was about the oppression of the indigenous population of Indonesia (Dutch India), and 2) it was supposed to be the only (!) piece of world literature written in Dutch.
On this background, I was at first a little disappointed with the book, as it seemed to focus extensively on the author himself (the novel is largely autobiographical). Douwes Dekker was forced to resign as a Dutch official in Indonesia after he had pointed to the oppression going on in his district. In his book he appears like a pouting child saying "You're stupid 'cause you wouldn't let me play with you anymore."
This impression, however, did not last. There's a very touching passage where the suffering of a young couple (Sadjah and Adinda) is described, and it becomes clear that Douwes Dekker's / Havelaar's fight with the Dutch regime started because he so desparately wanted to help the people whose protector he had pledged to be.
The literary style of "Max Havelaar" is very innovative for the 19th century. Contrary to his contemporaries, whose language was artificial and stilted, Multatuli used the everyday spoken language of his time, creating a language tone which was quite unique.
The appearance of several narrators is another innovative technique. Multatuli uses the none too sympathetic coffee dealer Batavus Droogstoppel as a contrast to Max Havelaar, making the circumstances around him appear clearer and strengthening the reader's sympathy for Havelaar.
Having read the whole book, I now understand why it is recognized as a masterpiece.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A trade classic 30 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really helpful perspective on trade justice from history, for those who of us who need to be reminded that our comfort may often rely on the oppression of others.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I gave it up halfway 20 Jan 2008
I am usually patient with books, especially with classics that have a high reputation such as this. But the procrastination in this one was simply too much. Half way into the book -- literally halfway i.e. with as many pages beneath my left thumb as beneath my right thumb -- you still wonder where the story, if there is any, is going. Unsettling is the fact that the author seems to be conscious of this but does nothing about it. He would plead with the "dear reader" to excuse the many digressions, and right after that he would embark in precisely another digression. Since this is a book in which it is not easy to keep track with names, you not only digress, you get lost. Was the author willingly playing games or is this simply an unfinished book? I'll go for the latter on account of the brilliant passages I read in the first half. If Multatuli had been given more encouragement by the public during his writer's career, he could have produced great things, including a revised, re-ordered version of "Max Havelaar". For one has no doubt, when reading this book, that a special literary talent is at work. This is a counterexample of the assumption that an unrecognised genius will produce great work. This genius threw in the towel and gave an unfinished, unstructured job to the printers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb translation of a superb book! 26 Sep 1998
By A Customer - Published on
By this 19th century novel an attempt was made to arise the awareness of the general public in the Netherlands to the oppression of the Indonesian people by the Dutch colonial system. The book is a cry for justice. The story is set in Amsterdam and Java and has a surprising structure, with changing perspective, and an almost independent romantic story on the love between Saidjah and Adinda. It is romantic, melodramatic even, jet thought-provoking and despite its heavy subject funny and very readable. Yes, certainly rereadable. It gets more beautiful everytime I reread it. I've both read the Dutch original book and this translation, and I think a perfect job has been done.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rhetorical masterwork 2 Aug 2004
By A. Lang - Published on
This book is one of the most important books of Dutch literature. The writer combines humour, emotion and facts. The book has a complex structure, without making it difficult to read, an outspoken view, but also more subtle jokes (at least in the Dutch language, and for people aware of Dutch culture), a perceptive view on the way the institutions in the Dutch East Indies worked to promote the corruption and the exploitation of the people. All these things make the book an enjoyment to read.

The writer, however, isn't trying to make an objective unemotional description of the events in the East Indies, but he is arguing - making a treatise - for a different/better treatment of the people in the Indonesia, basing his treatise on facts and emotions (he stresses the parts which are undisputed facts in a very natural way). For this he uses al his (well developed) rhetorical abilities.

To give some examples of his rhetorical abilities and the working of the structure:
- at some point in the book he argues against painters which try to show the multitude of misery caused by a certain event, by painting the quantity involved. He argues that this makes people numb for the suffering shown on the painting. Why the writer tells this is unclear, until later when he starts telling a dramatic story about the injustice and suffering endured by an Indonesian boy. Then it becomes clear that this suffering is endured by many Indonesians, but instead of making you dazzle with numbers he tries (and succeeds) to make you feel compassionate with one individual. Only to make you realise afterwards that there are/were many individuals which are enduring the same suffering!
- and instead of stating with certain facts: `this is a fact', he makes himself angry about how shocking/outrages something is, only to afterwards state: `it is true: you can look it up here, or there'.
These are just two examples, but the entire book is a rhetoric masterwork!

However, readers expecting a balanced book will be disappointed. The writer didn't strive for consensus, he strove to make an as great as possible contrast between his ideals (good) and the Dutch merchantmen spirit (evil). The treatise worked much in the same way as the books/movies of Micheal Moore do today. Mixing emotion, fact and rhetorical ability (although Multatuli has greater literary abilities) to create a document that polarises society about great contemporary political issues.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely contemporary 3 Jun 2007
By R. D. Gill - Published on
Most people turn to this book in order to learn about 19 century colonialism. However the book is stunningly contemporary as a picture of universal human types, and of a particular type, which is especially well refined and developed in the Netherlands. I suppose because of the Netherlands history of Calvinism, wealth, "apartheid", provincialism - people living in separate sub communities defined by religion, who only care for those in their own group. Moreover the book is a multimedia self-referring extravaganza avant-la-letter, masterfully written. Approached in the right frame of mind it is at the same time desparately funny and funnily desparate.

I recently asked 8 Dutch university students if they had read it - the most famous book in Dutch literature. 7 had not. One had started but had thrown it away half finished because it was all so depressingly familiar. (Familiar as a picture of present day attitudes in the Netherlands).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Challenge 17 April 2006
By R. M. Hope - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Max Havelaar is the best story of the 1000 years and the Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Dutch East Indies, according to the Indonesian novelist Pramodeya Ananta Toer. The billing piqued my search for the novel.

Max Havelaar, of the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company was written in 1860 by Eduward Douwes Dekker under the pen name Multatuli. The intrigue unfolds from the points of view of Droogstoppel, a stuffy Dutch coffee broker; Scarfman, an aspiring writer; Havelaar, an idealist and newly appointed Resident of Labak, Java; Blatherer, a preacher; Saijah, a young servant yearning for his love; and others, all affected by coffee markets. Interspersed are direct writings from author to reader. These asides are at times lengthy, quaint, or preachy. Not an easy read, yet intriquing enough to drive me to keep turning the pages. Indeed, the author himself describes his work as "chaotic, disjointed, striving for effect, bad in style, lacking skill.....but the substance is irrefutable." Most appealing are descriptions applicable today. Anyone who has ever been expected to report only the positive to corporate superiors, is bothered by products made by "millions who are maltreated or exploited in your name," or notices empires go to war more easily than mills are moved is bound to welcome this book. The novel hastened abolition of the Dutch Cultural System requiring compulsory growing of particular crops. Toer's characterization, if over the top, afforded me the opportunity of a brilliant read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By all the Canons and Rubrics ... 19 Oct 2011
By Giordano Bruno - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
... of the Modern Novel, Max Havelaar is a disaster. A hodge-podge. A clumsy polemic thinly disguised as an biography of a fictive hero ... until the final veil is cast aside and the 'author' reveals his still-masked face under the pseudonym Multatuli. But Max Havelaar ISN'T a Modern Novel. The rules don't apply. Though it was published in 1860, it's closer to an 18th C novel of 'sensibility', much like Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy or A Sentimental Journey. Is it mere serendipity that the fictional scribe in Max Havelaar, the German student who assembles the notes of the Scarfman into a book purporting to deal with coffe auctions, is named Ludwig Stern? A critic might also trace Multatuli's peculiar narrative mayhem to another pseudonymous author, Stendahl, whose Le Rouge et le Noir and whose autobiographical Life of Henry Brulard are equally spasmodic in structure.

Multatuli in the flesh was Eduard Douwes Dekker, a Dutchman born in 1820 who joined the East Indian Civil Service at age 18, rose steadily in rank during his years of service in Java, and resigned in protest against brutal colonial exploitation in 1856. The character Max Havelaar is indeed Dekker's avatar, but Dekker's career is narrated third hand: by Stern, who edits the manuscripts of Scarfman, who reports on the trials and tribulations of Havelaar. Odd structure? Well, it's even stranger yet, since the literary labors of Stern are commissioned by his coffee merchant host in Amsterdam, Batavus Drystubble, a pompous philistine who interrupts the very book he's commissioned with chapters of his own illiberal blather. And one of Drystubble's interpolations is the full text of a sermon by Reverend Blatherer, a Calvinist assertion of God's implicit favor for the rich and detestation for the hapless shiftless color-stained poor. Drystubble and Blatherer could easily be identified by a contemporary reader as foreshadowings of billionaire David Koch and any of the fundamentalist preachers of the extreme Right in American politics. Greed and self-righteousness have ye always with you!

But if Max Havelaar isn't a proper Modern Novel, perhaps it's a premature post-modernist novel, a collage of realia and fantasy, a deliberate `theater of the absurd' blending sentimental poetry, caricature, factual reportage, and confessional self-psychotherapy.

What it was for its audience -- the citizens of the Dutch Republic at the height of its colonial dominion over many millions of Javanese, Malays, and other peoples of the Indonesian archipelago -- was a shocking exposé of their callous treatment of their non-Dutch subjects. Dekker's purpose was not artistry; it was muckraking, and it had a modicum of impact on Dutch colonial adminstration in the short term. That the book also has enduring literary strengths is somewaht accidental.

Beyond its short term impact on Dutch and other European readers, the works of Multatuli had an extraordinary effect on the subsequent development of Indonesian literature and intellectualism. The novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, modern Indonesia's foremost author, are replete with references to Multatuli, and the stylistic peculiarities of Toer's books become less puzzling when one recognizes the enduring influence of Eduard Douwes Dekker.
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