Tjoet Nja Dinh knows herself as the queen of Aceh [in the North of the island Sumatra], and her scream for resistance against the Dutch invaders in what is now Indonesia is heard everywhere in her country. Wherever she goes, people take up their weapons. By order of the colonial government, the Royal Dutch East Indies Army unleashes an incredible cruel terror.
It is the summer of 1909 on the isle of Texel, in the North Sea, in Holland. Maxim, Roy and W.A. are connected by one all- encompassing thought: Aceh. Maxim, a former officer of the Dutch East Indies Army , has returned home at twenty six years of age, heavily wounded. Three years after his return he became mayor of Texel.
Haunted by his experiences in the Aceh war, Maxim cannot get Tjoet Nja Dinh out of his head. She had killed some of his men in a bloody skirmish. He was present when they trapped her deep in the jungle and so captured the most wanted woman of the East Indies.
But above all, he is aware that he has seen things too cruel to remember. Did he even participate in them?
His wife Roy notices how his nightmares are worsening, and sees how the Aceh war makes him sicker and sicker. And she convinces him to seek help from a new sort of practitioner: a nerve specialist.
W.A. is Maxim’s friend from Aceh. Under his pseudonym Wekker (“ Alarm Clock”) he has published a series of articles about the criminal acts of the Dutch Army in the name of the government. It is a devastating accusation and the whole country is upset and the parliament is demanding strict measures against the military.
W.A.’s stay at Texel is crucial for Maxim. W.A. is the trigger to face Maxim’s times at Aceh, and to fight the unbearable memories.
They both are seeking for a way out of their past.
In a kaleidoscope of memories Aceh is coming close so overwhelmingly. Melancholy, aversion, guilt, and even a kind of happiness, But anyone who has set foot on the East Indies will never get rid of that magical land. Maxim has seen cruelties there that he could not prevent, but nevertheless he feels homesick for Aceh. W.A. detests what his fellow countrymen are doing in the East Indies, but he feels he cannot breathe in Holland and turns back to the colony. And Roy is the compass on which both rely in their troubled lives.
The Hour of the Elephant is a driven novel about melancholy, guilt and longing.