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Literature / Oeroeg

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"Am I a stranger to the land of my birth forever, off the ground I never want to move?"
The main character

Oeroeg is a 1948 novel by Dutch author Hella Haasse, set during the era in which Indonesia was colonised by the Netherlands. The book studies the friendship between the son of Dutch colonists, named "Johan" in the film adaptation but remaining nameless in the book, and an Indonesian boy, Oeroeg.


It is the most standard work used for School Study Media in the Netherlands. Virtually every student in higher education is forced to read it at some point. It has also had a theatrical film adaptation in 1993, titled Going Home. The entire film is up for watching here.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Beauty = Goodness: Subverted, actually. Oeroeg's and Johan's mothers are both relatively fair-looking women, but Oeroeg's mom soon starts to look old and weary (having to take care of eight children by herself) while Johan's mother stays pretty. But in contrast, Johan's mother strikes up an affair with Johan's personal teacher, divorces his father and takes off to Holland, leaving her son behind without remorse.
  • Black Best Friend: While Oeroeg and Johan are on equal terms to each other, to their respective communities it comes off as this, and they are mocked for it, too - Oeroeg espcially, who is forced to change schools.
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  • Break the Cutie: Johan in the end.
  • Byronic Hero: Oeroeg could count.
  • Disappeared Dad: Oeroeg's father dies. His mother soon can't take care of herself anymore after it happens.
  • Downer Ending: Oeroeg and Johan meet again after several years, as hostile enemies during Indonesian protests. Johan tries to reconcile, but Oeroeg tells him to go since he does not belong in Indonesia.
  • Face–Heel Turn: In some ways, Oeroeg. He did develop a very hostile attitude against his former friend, while the latter had been nothing but good to him at this point. In fact, Johan treated Oeroeg as his absolute equal.
  • Forbidden Friendship: Eventually. While Johan's family never outright forbids him from hanging out with Indonesian kids, his dad at one point gets really mad that he is so focused on Oeroeg and asks him why he can't play with white kids.
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  • Genius Bruiser: Oeroeg. He gets through a lot of schooling and good education, completely against Johan's family's expectations.
  • Heel Realization: Oeroeg tries to induce one on Johan by introducing him to the White Man's Burden. It doesn't work. He succesfully converts Lida, though, who learns to speak Indonesian and starts working at a local hospital as a nurse, giving up her lavish home and white luxury.
  • I Choose to Stay: An interesting case. The main character calls Indonesia his home, despite his white heritage, because he grew up with Indonesian kids and speaks Indonesian languages. In the end, he does go to study in the Netherlands, and he becomes horribly confused when he returns to Indonesia and is told off by Oeroeg - who shouts to him that he "doesn't belong here".
  • Magical Negro: Oeroeg is one to Johan, very much so, to the point where he finds it hard (as a kid) to imagine his friend "in the real world".
  • Manipulative Bastard: Oeroeg manages to exploit Lida's slight white guilt into giving up her Dutch identity and becoming an Indonesian.
  • The Mentor: Gerard, the caretaker and huntsman, who teaches the boys a lot when they're kids.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: What Johan's dad tries to force upon him.
  • The Rival: The boys to eachother later on.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Both Oeroeg and Johan.
  • We Used to Be Friends: When Johan returns to Indonesia as an adult after spending years in Holland, he comes employed as a police officer and assists against Indonesian protestors who want their country back. He then meets a guy he thinks is Oeroeg at a lake near his former house.
    Johan: Oeroeg.
    Oeroeg: Go away. Or I'll shoot.
    Johan: Listen—
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So Johan leaves his father because his bitchy new wife sends Johan away—and his parents are never mentioned again from that point on.
  • You Killed My Father: Johan truly fears that Oeroeg blames him for the death of Oeroeg's father, who drowned trying to save Johan after the latter fell into a lake in the middle of the night. In the end, though, Oeroeg does end up hating Johan, but only because of Oeroeg's hatred of colonialism and Europeans. It had nothing to do with his dad.

The film adaptation contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Johan's in the military in the film and spends a good deal of the film being in an actual war instead of just fondly remembering his childhood and teenage years.
  • Death by Adaptation: Johan's father is killed by Indonesian rebels.
  • Killed Off for Real: Unlike in the book, both the boys' fathers.


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