Tag Archives: books

What to read before going to… Indonesia

20 Jun

Title- The Year of Living Dangerously

Author- Christopher Koch

Plot- It’s 1965 and Sukarno is nearing the end of his rule in Indonesia. Poverty is rife as the economy is in decline while the nation draws closer to the communists in Peking and begins to denounce the West.  Meanwhile a group of foreign correspondents indulge in the expat life in Jakarta, following the drama and watching the country disintegrate around them.

I love this book; it’s possibly one of my favourites. When I’m at home I read it to take me back to Indonesia through its rich imagery and try to imagine what it would have been like to be in Indonesia at that turbulent point of time.  In fact I love reading about this period in Indonesian history, the drama and conspiracy of the events of the 30th September 1965 and the effect that they had on the country is just so interesting and this book is a wonderful combination of the factual historical events of that time with the complex story of Guy Hamilton in his dealings with other expats. I probably read this book at least once a year, it paints a realistic picture of Indonesia in the way it describes simple things like the scent of clove cigarettes wafting and the simple life of the becak man. A really well written novel about Indonesia.

There was also a movie made based on the book. To be honest it’s a pretty good movie, Linda Hunt playing Billy Kwan was definitely worthy of the Oscar and Mel Gibson does a good job as he did in most of his early films. Do yourself a favour however and read the book first. In fact also do some reading about the 30th September Movement and the overthrow of Sukarno. The history of Indonesia will provide a whole new insight into the country when you visit and really helps understand how Indonesia has developed into the country it is today.

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What to read before going to… Cambodia

28 Mar

Title- First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

Author- Loung Ung

The Plot- This autobiography follows the story of Loung, a young  Cambodian girl, the daughter of a military official, from the evacuation of Phnom Penh and the next 4 years under the Khmer Rouge and suffering from illness, hunger and constant fear of execution in numerous work camps.

I read this book after it was recommended to me by a friend who I travelled to Cambodia with. Unfortunately the Khmer Rouge is an unavoidable part of travelling to that beautiful part of the world and this book truly is a raw account of one Cambodian’s journey through years of oppression. The most difficult part when reading it is remembering that this is a child’s story. The book is so well written that the age of the main protagonist is so easy to forget. Loung was only 6 when she was forced to leave her home in Phnom Penh and shifted from work camps to eventually become a child soldier. What were you doing when you were 6? It’s a story that puts life into perspective for you. It’s not an easy book to read because of the theme but it’s also a book that is hard to put down.

The tragic thing is that when you actually visit Cambodia, most people over the age of 40 will have very similar stories to tell. I had a man tell me about how his parents and siblings died and he spent years under the Khmer Rouge standing in a field as a scarecrow, so many childhoods were lost in 4 years. This is a truly great story of survival and one that everyone should read!