The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis’ Indonesian Bookshelf: what to read before, during, and after your trip

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 20•10

There are a great number of terrific books on Indonesia, and we here at WoWasis suggest you consider buying in your own country when possible, as books in Indonesia are expensive, even for paperbacks. The other side of the argument is that by buying in Indonesia, you support local bookstores. Here are a few books on Indonesia that we’ve found particularly fascinating. 

History, Culture, and Politics
John Coast, to a very large extent, introduced Balinese dancing to the West through a world tour he organized in the early 1950s. Dancing out of Bali (1953, ISBN 0-7946-0261-4) provides the fascinating story of talented but temperamental dancers and musicians, and the difficulties faced by a Westerner dealing with Indonesian politicians and local figures. 

Painter Miguel Covarrubias’ Island of Bali (1946, ISN 962-593-060-4) is an encyclopedic work of over 400 pages, detailing cultural and artistic elements of Bali, containing dozens of b&w photographs and several color plates. There have been several iterations of this book, including a coffee-table version with better reproductions of the photographs. 

If you suspect that there is a sexual underbelly to this fascinating nation, you’ll want to read Moammar Emka’s Jakarta Undercover series, which is in two discrete volumes. Volume 1, called simply Jakarta Undercover (2002, ISBN 10-981-05-3917-7) primarily covers high society venues and rich local playboys in Java. We preferred Jakarta Undercover II (2007, ISBN 978-981-05-9109-0), which has wonderful data on middle class sex haunts, current prices, and gay and ladyboy venues, both in Java and Bali. 

You won’t find a better book on the politics of Indonesia than John Hughes’ The End of Sukarno: a Coup that misfired, a Purge that Ran Wild (1967, ISBN 981-4068-95-9). Hughes’ tale of the aborted Communist coup reads like novel, and is essential for those wishing to gain a greater understanding of the personality of Sukarno, and the forces that drove the later Suharto régime. 

Most travelers to Bali find the art of the island fascinating, and overall, we found the most comprehensive book on the origins, painters, and schools of Balinese painting to be the large paperback called Museum Puri Lukisan, written by Jean Couteau, that you can only buy at the museum (1999, ISBN 979-95713-0-8). Here, you’ll find nice color representations of painting and sculpture, good historical information and photographs, and a section on wood carving as well. 

Indonesian Fiction
Jakarta Shadows (2002, ISBN 0 9535895 87) is a very interesting political thriller by Alan Brayne, in which the protagonist, an Western expat white collar worker, is caught between secretive elements in the reform movement and dark formal and quasi-police units. Brayne’s characters are fascinating, leaving the reader constantly guessing as to who the good guys and the bad guys are, and the book is a real page-turner.

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