The book Max Havelaar is a classic of Dutch literature. Multatuli (pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker) published his novel in 1860 and his work has since been translated into almost forty languages, including English, of course.
The novel is about a man who disagrees with the corrupt elite in the Netherlands who rule the Dutch East Indies and exploited the local workers, while the government looked the other way.
Initially, the book could count on little sympathy, the rulers were obviously not very happy with it at the time. It was only later that Multatuli’s work became widely known and is now considered as one of the most important books in Dutch literature.
Dekker was an expert by experience and wrote Max Havelaar out of frustration about the colonization, but also out of sheer necessity for himself. After his dismissal as a civil servant in the Dutch East Indies, he lived in poverty. Although he had little experience as a writer, he hoped that the book would lead to his rehabilitation and a new job. He was even prepared to waive publication for this. That didn’t happen.
Max Havelaar was first translated into English in 1868. In England, he received great praise from socialists and liberals alike. The book is known there as “the one Dutch classic”.
Multatuli was not fond of America. From his letters to his friend Sicco Roorda van Eysinga, he was mainly afraid that ’the rabble’ from America would become the boss in Java. There is no direct relationship between Multatuli and the United States. However, his work has had an influence on Western literature and political thought. “Max Havelaar” has been compared to works such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and has been recognized as an important anti-colonial text. Multatuli’s ideas may have influenced American thinkers who were working towards the abolition of slavery and the expansion of civil rights.
New York Times
Max Havelaar is still being reprinted to this day. The book has been translated into dozens of languages and was dubbed ‘The Book That Killed Colonialism’ by Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer in The New York Times in 1999.