Step up your tourist game.

Ivana Lucic   14 September 2016 16:05 - So you’re coming to Indonesia and somewhere in the hectic mess that is packing and getting through security, your mind finally settles on your exciting new adventure. But wait. The embarrassment starts creeping up slowly as you realize your Eurocentric high school history didn’t so much as mention Indonesia. Sure, you remember that one cousin that went to Bali and brought back those pretty traditional sarongs, but your knowledge of the rich nation is limited. 

And Indonesian history is complicated. Sure, the country may only be officially 72 years old but its one of the most rich and colorful places on earth, with hundred of languages spoken and a wide variety of religions co-existing on an archipelago formed of over 17,000 islands.

Fret not, we’ve compiled a list of novels that will get you through your Indonesian holiday and allow you to dip your toes into what is a highly complex history. And most importantly, not bore you to sleep.

And for your own good, we left out “Eat,Pray,Love.”



Indonesia, etc. – Exploring The Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani (2014)

This is an all encompassing and riveting read on one woman’s 20-year love affair with the Southeast Asian country. Journalist Pisani travels from north to south, and east to west in her adopted home and leaves no island unexplored. She manages to reveal and uncover the deep layers of history in Indonesia as she naviagates between rural towns in Sulawesi to fishing villages in Sumatra. Told in an exciting and adventurous manner, her journey will keep your flipping the pages. Be forewarned, the book will inspire some serious backpacker wanderlust.

The Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1980)

It’s a historical romance that will keep you on your toes. The unjust life of the Indonesian natives is told in “The Earth of Mankind” during the Dutch colonization. Minke ,the central character refuses the hierarchical society. Of Javanese royal descent, the young and outspoken man attended a school mainly for Dutch natives and falls in loves with a mixed race concubine, setting off a tale of romance against the backdrop of a racist and oppressive Dutch rule. The tale, while fictionalized, is astoundingly similar to Toer’s life, and was in fact written while he was imprisoned for speaking out politically against the Dutch regime. While the Earth of Mankind may be the award winning authors most famous novel, it certainty isn’t the only one worth your time. "Child of all Nations" and "Girl from the Coast" are other notable works.



Hotel K: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali’s Most Notorious Jail by Kathryn Bonella (2009)

Bali may evoke visions of endless sparkling coastline with a backdrop of rice terraces and volcanoes, but the truth is that for several hundred citizens, and a handful of international tourists, Bali is the furthest thing from a beachside paradise. Living under terrible conditions only exacerbated by rampant corruption, Bonella tells the true tales of several inmates in Hotel K, Bali’s prison known for housing its most dangerous criminals. It’s a page turner that will have you rethinking the façade that is sunny Bali.


Sitti Nurbaya: Unrealized Love by Marah Rusli (1922)

Featuring traditional Minangkabau storytelling techniques such as pantuns, Sitti Nurbaya tells the tragic tale of two-star crosses lovers at the turn of the century. Forced marriage and colonialism are the main themes in this hit novel, which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet. While it’s a fictional tale, the truth between the lines cannot be denied. This is an excellent read for the literary fan, as it’s one of Indonesia’s most notable works, and is still taught in Indonesian schools.


In the Time of Madness: Indonesia On The Edge Of Chaos by Richard Lloyd Perry ( 1980)

Writing about a time where Indonesia was at the brink of sheer anarchy, British journalist Perry documents the collapse of the controversial Suharto regime. Ritual cannibalism in the deep jungles of Sumatra and terrorists attacks in Timor are all part of Perry’s reality of Indonesia at a moment of complete change. The strikingly honest writing doesn’t skim on Perry’s own emotional reactions to the scenes he sees unfold, and is an incredibly moving tale of a country in the middle of a breaking point. 



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