Some time back I made a humongous effort to get to the QB Books store near Sarinah and was seriously pissed off to find out that it had been closed down. So the following Saturday I decided to go to the QB Books branch in Semanggi Plaza. But guess what? It had been closed down too! QB Books no more. Probably bankrupt. A bit of a shame really, as it was a great place to wile away a few hours in peace and quiet and pick up a few books.
Anyway, a couple of years back, when I had just started blogging, one of the first expat bloggers in Jakarta – if not the first – my old pal Jakartass – said he had bookmarked me, meaning I had to come up with a list of books that I like. So better late than never, here are three books that I really like - on an Indonesia theme:
1. Among the believers by VS Naipaul
The fact that “the Master” struck a raw nerve with this book and came in for some severe criticism means he probably got it about right. VS Naipaul ain’t the sort of writer to come up with politically correct mush and he doesn’t disappoint. His insights are remarkable and he shows why the radicals had started to grow like a cancerous tumor – way before 9/11 – but while still sympathetically portraying the hospitable people he meets on his travels. Naipaul doubts radical ideology, not individuals. Outstanding travel writing from a phenomenal intellect.
2. Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton
“The book is full of beheadings; people being keelhauled and drawn and quartered and there is a horrific chapter on English sailors being tortured by their Dutch captors that is worthy of the worst things done during the Spanish Inquisition”, says one reviewer.
What more could you ask for in a book? A fascinating read and very well written.
3. Indonesia Handbook by Bill Dalton
Banned by Suharto, Bill’s Indonesia Handbook (published by Moon) is an absurdly thick and comprehensive guide to traveling in Indonesia. Devoid of the sanitized corporate feel of the Lonely Planet tosh, I still read my well-thumbed copy even today, dreaming of visiting ridiculously remote and beautiful islands in Indonesia that few travelers have ever visited. Although sometimes incomplete, and even plain wrong, this book covers an awful lot of ground. Among other things, Bill even quotes the prices of both local and Chinese “butterflies of the night” in the small towns he visits. No wonder it took him so long to write it!