Catrien Ross

Artist & Mystic in Japan

Still I Dream of Java

Why I Wrote This Book:

In Still I Dream of Java I reinterpret the memories of my Dutch-Indo aunt who grew up in the final, turbulent years of the Dutch East Indies, as the new nation of Indonesia emerged. For more than three hundred years the unique blended community of the Indo people had been integral to that vast archipelago. But as World War II and the Japanese occupation overturned Dutch rule, Indo society, too, disintegrated, never to recover.

The idea for Still I Dream of Java grew out of long-distance telephone conversations over many months with Tante Oty, my mother’s older sister by two years.

Since our brief time living together in Semarang after my birth, there had been minimal contact between us. From Java, Tante Oty had emigrated to the Netherlands and again to the USA. My Scottish father brought my mother and me back to Scotland, where my two younger sisters and two brothers were born. I moved to Arizona and then to Japan.

But although our lives were distant and apart, a sudden impulse to know more about my mother’s roots prompted me to establish a renewed relationship.

I would telephone to Los Angeles from my home in the mountains in Japan, and if the time was right, we talked.

Little by little, as Tante Oty sensed my interest was genuine, the long-buried details of life in Dutch East Indies surfaced.

“What do you mean, cut a hole through the roof?” I ask.

“Just that,” says Tante Oty. “We were all so worried about tuberculosis my Dad and his brother climbed up on the roof to cut a hole through to the ceiling. That way we could air the sitting room while we waited for Jan’s return.”

Images race through my mind. My great-grandmother’s body decomposing in her house in central Java. Family members waiting for days around the open coffin. The tropical heat.

“What about flies?” I ask. “What about the smell?”

Tante Oty has no recollection. “I don’t recall any flies. But there must have been some smell,” she murmurs.

I am intrigued. These are family details I have never heard before, personal stories from my mother’s childhood world. Although I was born in Java my emotional connection had always been with Scotland. Now I was learning about my life’s earliest influences.

I become determined to find out what I can.

“Tell me more, Tante Oty,” I plead. And so she does.

Still I Dream of Java is a work of literary non-fiction because I write about actual people, surviving actual experiences, and I believe their incredible story, lived in a defining moment for world history, deserves to be told. So the names of people and places are real and unchanged. I have used creative techniques to convey dialogue but what happened took place.

Each of us recalls the past in our own unique way, but my hope is that my book will help in our remembering, and that in our shared memories we honor all that we are.

~ Catrien Ross

Books in Japanese by Catrien Ross include:
Kenjo no Mezame (Published by Energy Doorways in April, 2018)
Hikari no Uzu (Published by Energy Doorways in November, 2009)