Unmarked Graves: Death and Survival in the Anti-Communist Violence in East Java, Indonesia.

AuthorPohlman, Annie
PositionBook review

Unmarked Graves: Death and Survival in the Anti-Communist Violence in East Java, Indonesia. By Vannessa Hearman. Singapore: NUS Press, 2018. Soft cover: 272pp.

The outcome of over a decade of in-depth research, Vannessa Hearman's remarkable book, Unmarked Graves, makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the mass violence which took place in Indonesia in 1965 and specifically in East Java. Hearman's book leads the reader through this period of catastrophic violence and its long aftermath by using testimonial accounts, mainly given by survivors. These survivors--their actions, recollections and reflections--are companions throughout the book, and their testimonies give us a better understanding of this period as well as a sense of the experiences of those who lived through it. Hearman tells the story of the massacres in East Java with sensitivity and a clear-sighted understanding of this terrible tragedy, derived from years of working closely with survivors and analysing archival materials.

The structure of the book progresses logically, beginning with a discussion of the background to the main analysis chapters. Aside from describing the methods, sources and structure of the book, Chapters One and Two give a longer history of the Left in modern Indonesia than in recent analyses of the 1965 coup and its aftermath. In this way, the reader is able to contextualize the growth and immense impact of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) from its small beginnings at the start of the twentieth century through to the height of its strength and influence in the early 1960s. Hearman also provides a careful and thorough account of President Sukarno's regime (1945-65), and the challenges which faced East Java and Indonesia as a whole.

Critically, it is in the opening chapters that Hearman first introduces the reader to the survivors whose stories appear throughout the book. These survivors include Putmainah, a women's activist and leader in East Java who represented the PKI in the regional parliament for ten years until 1965, and Winata, whose studies led him overseas during the Sukarno era and to a high position within the government's Directorate of Mining just prior to the start of the massacres. Hearman builds on these introductions throughout the book, as the experiences of these survivors make real and personal the mass violence that ruined their lives and took so many of their family members, comrades and friends. Their testimonies...

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