Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Matt Easton's "We Have Tired of Violence"

Matt Easton is a writer and a human rights researcher and advocate. The author of We Have Tired of Violence: A True Story of Murder, Memory, and the Fight for Justice in Indonesia, he has lived and worked in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, India, and Zimbabwe and now resides in New York.

Easton applied the “Page 99 Test” to We Have Tired of Violence and reported the following:
We Have Tired of Violence tells the story of one of the most remarkable and effective human rights lawyers Indonesia has ever seen. In September 2004, six years after he helped to bring three decades of authoritarian rule to an end, Munir boarded a plane in Jakarta, stopped briefly in Singapore, and then died on the long flight to Amsterdam.

Not long after Munir’s burial, his wife Suci asked to meet with the state airline, Garuda Indonesia, to learn more about what happened to her husband. She was also following up on a memory that nagged at her. A few days before Munir died, a man calling himself “Polly from Garuda” had called to ask when her husband was traveling. She’d told him, but immediately regretted it.

In October, at the end of a meeting with the head of the airline, Suci had asked if he had an employee named Polly. The airline employed thousands of pilots, but he’d answered without hesitation that there was, in fact, a co-pilot with the unusual name of Pollycarpus.

The scene on page 99 takes place soon after, in the beginning of November 2004. Accompanied by Munir’s friend and colleague Poengky, Suci is in the middle of a second meeting, this time with the crew from the first leg of Munir’s fatal journey, Jakarta to Singapore, on which he had eaten his last meal and spent his last healthy hours. Suci and Poengky have just learned a new and puzzling piece of information: Munir had been seated in business class.
“Why was he in business class?” Poengky asked. “Didn’t he have an economy ticket?”

[The purser from the flight] explained that while greeting passengers in business class, she’d been excited to recognize Munir, as she considered herself a fan. Munir had taken a seat that was assigned to a co-pilot flying to Singapore for an assignment. Onboard upgrades were very unusual, but the co-pilot assured her it was fine. His name was Pollycarpus.

Suci and Poengky asked to meet Pollycarpus.
The rest of the page describes the setting of her meeting with the co-pilot soon after. By the end of that meeting, Pollycarpus’s strange and inconsistent answers make Suci deeply suspicious:
Suci’s suspicions began to coalesce, until a thought came to her hard and sharp. It’s him. He did it, she told herself. Just keep him talking.
Just days later, a leaked Dutch autopsy revealed that Munir had been poisoned with a massive dose of arsenic.

The Page 99 Test gives a good sense of We Have Tired of Violence. The page reveals an early breakthrough in the unofficial murder investigation by Munir’s wife and friends, weeks before the police opened a file on his murder. You can see that the book has elements of a police procedural, charting the determined and creative efforts of Munir’s family and friends and a few committed police investigators to excavate the truth. But the story is also about the limits of investigation within a justice system corroded by its authoritarian past. Even years after the arrival of democracy, the system favors those with political influence, many of them familiar faces from the old regime.

Page 99 is also illustrative of the tone and style of the book. I tried to let the events and the protagonists speak for themselves, with just enough background to allow the reader to place them within Indonesia’s rich historical and political context. Like many narrative nonfiction authors, I sought to recreate scenes and dialogue based on any sources I could locate. For Suci’s meetings with the airline, I used contemporary notes of the meeting, a few photos, courtroom testimony, and interviews with participants in an effort to create an accurate, vivid scene with just enough details to allow readers to picture it, even though they may have little knowledge of Indonesia.
Visit Matt Easton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue