Under the Volcano by Cameron Forbes is one of the better easy-reading histories and modern reportage books on Bali. Given the Western fascination with Indonesia’s Bali, you’d think a vast and good literature on the island would exist in English -- but it doesn’t, really.
While Under the Volcano might be a little uneven, and its journalistic style occasionally a touch breathless, it’s an intriguing potted history. Plenty of colourful anecdotes will inform even those somewhat familiar with Bali — and it’s the pace and breeziness that makes it such a compelling read. The book traverses Bali’s biogeography — it’s on the edge of Wallacea, the area where Asia transitions into Australasia (Forbes covers Alfred Russel Wallace visiting the island — through to its early habitation, visits from outside explorers and the brutal Balinese fight for independence from the Dutch.
Then the massacres of 1965-66, for which nobody has ever been held accountable, are covered, and later the Jemaah Islamiyah bombings of 2002 and 2005. Forbes paints a realistic portrayal of modern life and current affairs on the island through to the mid-2000s, with something of an Australian emphasis. For the traveller coming to Bali for the first time, this is an excellent introduction to the challenges facing the island as it hurtles into the 21st century. It says something sad, perhaps, that this 2007-published book is already out of print in Australia (though if physically in Australia you can download it on the Dymocks app).
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#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,738
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