On the Java Ridge

On the Java Ridge

A fast-paced political thriller rather than a travel tale, On the Java Ridge explores the humanity behind Australia’s draconian border policies.

Browse titles by subject matter
Subscribe to the Mekong Review
Travelfish.org are big fans of the Mekong Review. If you’d like to read intelligent and thoughtful material about the region, please consider subscribing. We do.

Author Jock Serong deftly weaves three story strands together. One is set in Australia’s capital Canberra as a national election looms, and two are set on water: a boat with adventuring Australians chasing waves in remote east Indonesia, and a sabotaged boat full of asylum-seekers from various war-torn countries heading to Australia.

Australia has just announced tough new border policies ahead of the election, and outsources the dealing of boats encroaching on its waters to the private sector. Meanwhile, tensions are rising on the Australian surf boat as one of the customers insists on surfing at an uninhabited island, while the asylum-seekers’ boat runs into serious difficulties in Indonesian waters as a huge storm hits. Boats provide a usefully restrictive setting for the illumination of flawed characters and distillation of ideas, and Serong dials this up thanks to his taut, beautiful writing, and great sense of pace and timing.

While the focus of the story is very much Australia’s terrible and secretive policies towards those legally seeking asylum, tucked into the pages is Serong’s evocative descriptions of ocean and surf. This is probably the best writing we’ve come across about waves since Barbarian Days.

For instance:
“It was big enough and moving fast enough that she struggled to reach it and yet she had time to appreciate the exquisite curvature of the sloped ocean coming forward. The flat water in front of the wave tilted slightly down and into it as it drew the sea towards itself. It moved without violence, its tremendous weight and energy made sinuous by deep physics; a glass escarpment that was concave in two dimensions, trough to peak and end to end, a bowl reflecting the wide convex of the sea floor.”

And also:
“His turns were flicked rather than drawn, like he was swiping at bugs. She’d seen enough surfers to know that, for better or worse, something flowed out of their souls and through their feet.”

It’s refreshing to see Bali relegated to just a bit of background in a story that takes place elsewhere in Indonesia; the descriptions of eastern islands are refreshing and interesting. More importantly though, it’s heartening to see the issue of Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers covered in a novel of substance. The form allows for the humanity of the people affected by Australian policies to be explored in more detail than a journalistic piece can permit. Such a story also highlights the speed at which the world is becoming smaller and our tragedies impact on each other.

Read this book for its descriptions of the Indonesian archipelago, not often seen in Australian literature. But also read it as an important story for our times, highlighting as it does that while we, the rich and fortunate, explore the world for fun and enlightenment, others must flee their homes simply for safety. Are we doing enough to ensure that this safety exists?

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General