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Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nationby Elizabeth Pisani
Indonesia is interesting in its own right, but in Elizabeth Pisani's joyful hands, this improbable nation of 13,466 islands spanning over 3,300 miles becomes a fascinating cautionary tale about the benefits, limits, and dangers of enforcing a national identity. Pisani has spent many years living and working in Indonesia, and her historical and political insights and anecdotes are sharp, funny, and sympathetic, grounded in the oftentimes perplexing reality of island life. I found myself coveting her temerity as she island-hops, rides her motorbike up volcanoes, has tea with a corpse (twice), and participates in village rituals. She's optimistic but keenly aware of the nation's flaws; likewise, although many of her stories are hilarious and strange, they're also respectful — this never devolves into a "how weird are the Indonesians" travel piece. This book is wonderful and witty — a perfect pick for the Jared Diamond fan with wanderlust.
Synopses & Reviews
Jakarta tweets more than any other city on earth, but 80 million Indonesians live without electricity and many of its communities still share in ritual sacrifices. Declaring independence in 1945, Indonesia said it would "work out the details of the transfer of power etc. as soon as possible." With over 300 ethnic groups spread across 13,500 islands, the world's fourth most populous nation has been working on that "etc." ever since. Bewitched by Indonesia for twenty-five years, Elizabeth Pisani recently traveled 26,000 miles around the archipelago in search of the links that bind this impossibly disparate nation. Fearless and funny, Pisani shares her deck space with pigs and cows, bunks down in a sulfurous volcano, and takes tea with a corpse. Along the way, she observes Big Men with child brides, debates corruption and cannibalism, and ponders "sticky" traditions that cannot be erased.
Book News Annotation:
Searching for the benang merah, or red thread that binds the disparate parts of Indonesia together, previous resident and Indonesian-fluent Pisani, spent one year in random selection of Indonesian experiences. The former foreign correspondent for Reuter and current HIV epidemiologist put aside her London consultancy, and with a rule of just say yes, traveled more than 40,000 kilometers by motor bike, bus, boat, and plane, visiting more than three-fourths of th“Bad Boyfriend” provinces, ultimately finding a nation quite different than the one she thought she knew. There are 13 chapters: improbable nation; the ties that bind; sticky culture; resident aliens, the emperor is far away; happy families; spoils of the earth; profits on ice; historical fictions; misfits; indigenous arts; faith healing; the other Indonesia. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)
An entertaining and thought-provoking portrait of Indonesia: a rich, dynamic, and often maddening nation awash with contradictions.
About the Author
Elizabeth Pisani has lived in Indonesia at various times over the past twenty-five years, originally as a journalist and later as an HIV epidemiologist. The author of The Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia Etc., she is based in London.
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