The Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch, Australia, 1978

This is a great book, beautifully and intelligently written. The subject matter – Indonesia in 1965 – is close enough to our own time for many readers to remember the upheavals and the violence as President Sukarno sought to retain power while trying to remain straddled on the fence between the Left and Right factions of the government.

Hamilton, the Australian journalist at the centre of the novel, becomes slowly drawn into the strange world of Billy Kwan, a dwarf who is also Hamilton's photographer. Hamilton, together with other international journalists, meet regularly at the Wayang Bar – wayang being a Javanese word for a play using shadow puppets – to discuss the chaos that is inevitable. The wayang puppets become an important symbol as the situation, already dire at the beginning of the year, descends into turmoil where no one really knows what is happening or what is likely to happen.

Photo of Christopher Koch from
The characterization is extremely good, and Billy Kwan, for one, lives on in our memory even after we have reached the last page and closed the book. The many glimpses of Indonesian life – the landscape, the slums, the people, the beliefs, the smells – join together to produce an amazing backdrop to an amazing and thought-provoking story.

In the end, there is no good or bad, nothing is clear cut. As Koch writes: 'The West asks for clear conclusions, final judgements. A philosophy must be correct or incorrect, a man good or bad… '

The Year of Living Dangerously was made into a film by Peter Weir in 1982, with Mel Gibson starring as Hamilton.

                                                The photo from the film is from