Yes, the shadow puppet as a metaphor for Indonesia’s (or at least Java’s) political system has been done to death, but Christopher J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously is perhaps the book that polishes it off best, even if unironically.
The 1978-released novel — which hasn’t always aged so well when it comes to stereotyping — focuses on the political turmoil that engulfed the young nation in the 1960s, through a Westerner’s eye.
Award-winning Australian novelist Koch writes a suspenseful and finely crafted tale about foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton and cameraman Billy Kwan, who navigate their way through the political intrigue of Sukarno’s era and the politician’s fall in 1965. (Hamilton was loosely based on the life of Koch’s younger brother, who was himself an ABC reporter.) Relationships are not always what they seem — they’re a bit shadowy, natch — and the intrigue only adds to the speed with which you’ll want to flick through the pages.
As dated as some aspects of the book have become, it remains a rollicking and in many ways illuminating read. And as we flew into Jakarta in the early 2000s, we have to say Koch’s descriptions of the terracotta-tiled, low-slung bungalows sprawling across the capital remained as apt as they’d been back then... though with a little more traffic, it must be said.
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