Mr. Pramoedya, who was known by his first name, had been suffering from complications of diabetes and heart disease, and asked to leave the hospital Saturday, his daughter, Astuti Ananta, said.
A sympathizer with the downtrodden and an unwavering critic of Indonesia's elite, Mr. Pramoedya is best known for the Buru Quartet, the story of a young, ambitious Javanese political activist and journalist who comes of age in the waning years of Dutch colonialism.
The four books — "This Earth of Mankind," "Child of All Nations," "Footsteps" and "House of Glass" — were banned by the Suharto regime. Translated into more than 20 languages, the novels were widely acclaimed
In all, Mr. Pramoedya, a small, slender man who was frail much of his life, wrote more than 30 works: novels, short stories, long articles, short nonfiction pieces and a memoir of his hellish years as a political prisoner on the arid Indonesian island of Buru.
"His focus was always on the large landscape, the historical, social and political forces that came together to create Indonesia," said John McGlynn, the director of publications at the Lontar Foundation and a translator of some of his works. "No other Indonesian author has succeeded as well as Mr. Pramoedya in doing this. And no other author has been willing to sacrifice so much to educate his compatriots."
It was Mr. Pramoedya's ability to draw the "big picture" that set him apart from most post-World War II Asian novelists, Mr. McGlynn said.
A leftist and a supporter of the first Indonesian leader, Sukarno, Mr. Pramoedya was taken prisoner two weeks after an abortive coup attempt in September 1965 that eventually led to the coming to power of Suharto, a general and a tough anti-Communist. The police who stormed the author's house to arrest him beat his head, leaving him without much hearing for the rest of his life.
He was held without charges for 14 years on Buru, then kept under house arrest in Jakarta until 1992. But Mr. Pramoedya, fearful that he would not be allowed back into the country if he traveled abroad, did not dare leave Indonesia until Suharto was swept from power in 1998.
He made his first visit to the United States in 1999 to coincide with the publication in English of "The Mute's Soliloquy," a memoir of his years in the hard labor prison that details survival through foraging for worms and snakes.
In the memoir, he wrote: "The bodies of those men who could stand were wet with dew, but many more were unable to get up; they were either dead, unconscious or had no strength left to stand. A sour smell of blood and human waste clung in the air."
Known as Pram by many Indonesians, Mr. Pramoedya (pronounced prah-MOO-dee-ya) was born Feb. 6, 1925, the eldest of nine children, in the village of Blora on Java, the most populous island of Indonesia's archipelago. His father, who was politically active against the Dutch, was a headmaster and a man of some social prominence.
Journalism came early. He graduated from the Radio Vocational School in 1941 and during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia worked as a stenographer and for a Japanese news agency, where he developed his writing. When the Dutch returned to Indonesia to win back their colony, Mr. Pramoedya was imprisoned from 1947 to 1949 for being "anti-colonial," and from his cell wrote his first published novel, "The Fugitive," about an Indonesian who fought the Japanese.
In the 1950's he continued to write novels and novellas that dwelled on the corrosive effects of colonialism on human relations. In the early 1960's, after a trip to China, he became the editor of the weekly section of a leftist newspaper and a teacher at the academy of journalism in Jakarta.
Of his long imprisonment, Mr. Pramoedya once remarked, "Is it possible to take from a man his right to speak to himself?" He was denied pens or any kind of paper in prison, so to prove he could not be silenced, Mr. Pramoedya told the story of Minke, the hero of the Buru quartet, to his fellow prisoners every night.
In this way, the author was playing on a long Indonesian tradition of oral story telling. Two years before his release, he was allowed paper and a typewriter and wrote the first two volumes.
The first English translation of the Buru Quartet was by an Australian diplomat, Max Lane, who was posted to Jakarta in the early 1980's while Suharto was at the height of his power. Mr. Lane was recalled by the Australian government. It was that translation from the Malay-based Indonesian language that showed the English-reading world Mr. Pramoedya's spare but emotive writing style.
In the last decade, Mr. Pramoedya's output waned. But he never lost his touch for the acerbic, and he remained a relentless critic of Indonesia's leadership, even during the post-Suharto era of a growing democracy.
In 2004, when Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of his hero, Sukarno, was president, Mr. Pramoedya said, "After Sukarno, there have only been clowns who had no capability to lead a country."