Synopses & Reviews
From Indonesia, an inspiring, record-breaking bestseller—and a modern-day fairy tale
Published in Indonesia in 2005, The Rainbow Troops, Andrea Hiratas closely autobiographical debut novel, sold more than five million copies, shattering records. Now it promises to captivate audiences around the globe.
Ikal is a student at the poorest village school on the Indonesian island of Belitong, where graduating from sixth grade is considered remarkable. His school is under constant threat of closure. Ikal and his friends—a group nicknamed the Rainbow Troops—face threats from every angle: skeptical government officials, greedy corporations, deepening poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and their own low self-confidence.
But the students also have hope, which comes in the form of two extraordinary teachers, and Ikals education in and out of the classroom is an uplifting one. We root for him as he defies the islands tin mine officials. We meet his first love, the unseen girl who sells chalk from behind a shop screen, whose pretty hands capture Ikals heart. We cheer for Lintang, the classs barefoot math genius, as he bests the students of the mining corporations school in an academic challenge. Above all, we gain an intimate acquaintance with the customs and people of the worlds largest Muslim society.
This is classic storytelling in the spirit of Khaled Hosseinis The Kite Runner: an engrossing depiction of a milieu we have never encountered before, bursting with charm and verve.
“Hiratas writing is as brilliant, beautiful, remarkable, and engrossing as the characters and the world he brings us. If youve ever been afraid to dream, or disbelieved in the true power of learning, read The Rainbow Troops and youll be changed by the two guardians and their small number of students, whose intelligence and vibrancy will intoxicate you. This is a treasure from one of the largest Muslim societies in the world.” —Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone
“The Rainbow Troops is a charming, funny, moving story about growing up and going to school on the island of Belitong in Indonesia. The Rainbow Troops are students in a poor, beleaguered village school, run by a pair of courageous and generous teachers who protect and champion their tiny class. I loved reading these stories about brave, smart, resourceful kids, set in a magical landscape that includes clouds, crocodiles, and shamans, as well as tin mining, politics, and regional school competitions.” —Roxana Robinson, author of Cost
About the Author
Andrea Hirata is an Indonesian writer. He was a participant in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2010. His first novel, The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi), sold more than five million copies in Indonesia, making him the countrys bestselling writer of all time, as well as its first to enjoy truly international success: The Rainbow Troops has been published or is forthcoming in twenty-three countries and counting. Hirata has written three sequels to The Rainbow Troops: Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), Edensor, and Maryama Karpov. He lives in Indonesia.
Reading Group Guide
1. How does Muhammadiyah Elementary compare to your childhood school? What can we learn from Bu Mus and Pak Harfan about delivering a transformative education?
2. Although the book was inspired by Andrea Hiratas teachers and childhood friends, The Rainbow Troops is a novel. What can fiction teach us about humanity that a memoir cannot?
3. Just fifteen years old, Bu Mus declined a marriage proposal from a business owner and a job offer in a warehouse. She was determined to fulfill her dream of teaching. What accounts for her devotion to Ikal and his classmates?
4. Bu Mus continually cites Indonesias constitutional promise of education for all, but Superintendent Samadikun and the tin mine operators continually try to keep impoverished children out of school. How do these powerbrokers justify their actions? What does the novel illustrate about economics and education? Is it possible to create an education system that leaves no child behind?
5. How are the children affected by the presence of Harun, who saves the day in the first chapter? What does his story say about the benefits and limitations of mainstreaming special-needs children?
6. In chapter six, Ikal says, “One of the extraordinary qualities of Malays is that no matter how bad their circumstances, they always consider themselves fortunate. That is the use of religion.” How do Bu Mus and Pak Harfan use Islam to help their students develop a moral compass and cope with the economic inequalities of their island?
7. The leaky classroom is decorated with a Rain of Money poster featuring the singer Rhoma Irama. Yet in chapter thirty-five, the class politician Kucai and bodybuilder Samson are described as “poisoned by money” because they quit school to become laborers. What does Bu Mus try to teach the students about the value of money versus the value of an education? Growing up on Belitong—one of the richest islands in Indonesia—why must Ikal and his classmates choose between a living wage and an education? Why cant they have both?
8. What should a society do to nurture its gifted students, such as Lintang? How would he have fared in the United States?
9. Like most children, Flo, Mahar, and other members of the Limpai Group immerse themselves in an imaginary, supernatural world. What special significance does the legend of the Limpai, drawn from their cultures mythology, have for them?
10. Sahara and Flo are the only female students. How do girls and young woman (including Bu Mus) fare in Ikals community?
11. Why does Flo reject her affluent fathers world?
12. In chapter thirteen, the title of the book is explained when Ikal recalls climbing trees with his friends in search of rainbows. What gives them the impulse to seek magical panoramas? How does the incredible beauty of the island shape their hearts and minds?
13. How is Ikal transformed by his love for A Ling? For him, what is the significance of her extraordinarily beautiful fingernails?
14. What aspects of Indonesian culture and history were most surprising to you as you read The Rainbow Troops? As the worlds largest Muslim-majority country, how does Indonesia defy stereotypes?
15. How are parents portrayed in the novel? What is their role in guiding the next generation? How do their children feel about authority?
16. How did you react to the novels final portion, set twelve years later, in which Ikal supports his niece Eryns education, while power is ironically shifted to the poor on Belitong? What do these pages say about the relationships between government, business, citizens, and family?
Reading group guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.