This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Indonesia guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.
Wrapping your head around Indonesian culture can be a daunting task, as the country’s history, economics, politics and culture have been widely interpreted and documented by a host of writers. Literature about Java and Bali is relatively common, but anything about the other islands can be hard to find. The following will all help you get in the mood before your trip:
Lyall Watson’s Gifts of Unknown Things observes the symbiotic relationship of a community and its environment on an unnamed Indonesian island. The value of the natural world features highly in the book, and fans describe it as life affirming.
Tim Flannery’s Throwim Way Leg is a must for Papuan inspiration. The author recounts his scientific expeditions to the province, where he discovered new species in Indiana Jones-style adventures. And it’s all true!
The pages explode (!) in Simon Winchester’s highly readable Krakatoa – The Day the World Exploded, which melds history, geology and politics, all centred on the 1883 eruption of Krakatau – the world’s biggest bang.
In Search of Moby Dick, by Tim Severin, is an engagingly written search for the globe’s last whale-hunters that includes an extended stay in the remote whaling village of Lamalera, Nusa Tenggara.
Indonesia: People and Histories by Jean Gelman Taylor is passionately written and throws new light on Indonesian history by telling it from both Indonesian and outsiders’ perspectives, covering the lives of ordinary folk as well as rulers.
The Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher J Koch is the harrowing tale of a journalist in Sukarno’s Indonesia of 1965. Many have seen the movie with a young Mel Gibson and Linda Hunt. The book is more harrowing.
If you think travel’s rugged now, delve into Helen and Frank Schreider’s Drums of Tonkin, which documents their 1963 journey from Sumatra to Timor in an amphibious jeep: landslides, gun-toting soldiers and sea voyages galore.
The Invisible Palace by Jose Manuel Tesoro tells the true story of a journalist’s murder in Yogyakarta during the twilight of the Suharto regime. It details the intricate webs within Indonesian society linking Islam, traditional beliefs, family, government and thuggery.
More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.