The Year of Living Dangerously
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2006
Intriguing thriller set in one of Indonesia's most turbulent times follows the basic plot of most of that country's shadow puppet fables. Viz: The earthly balance of good and evil has lapsed, and the clueless but good-hearted hero finds himself aided by the unexpected attentions of a bold dwarf.

There is so much going on, it's to be enjoyed on several levels. Innocence lost, cloak and daggery, true political intrigue, guy meets girl, expatriate sleaze, lessons in Indonesian culture: it's all there. Very nicely written with a perfect pace and memorable characters; Koch seems to be a great observer and decent researcher.

So nicely composed was this book, the subsequent film (featuring breathtakingly fresh performances by youngsters Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson) captured the best dialogue and the steamy atmosphere with apparent ease. Destined to be a classic, YLD is a story that takes hold and stays with you a long time.

De rigeur reading for the expats of Indonesia, but also a great book to have along if traveling in Indonesia (the twenty year ban on this book has been lifted by the government, so you can bring it in legally now)!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 24, 2003
You will be transported to the steaminess of the equator. This is a wonderful story full of unique characters in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in Indonesia. Sukarno's Indonesia is an edgy place in 1965 and the group of western journalists Koch assembles as his main characters can sense the tragedy ready to erupt. Guy Hamilton, a television correspondent, is joined by Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian cameraman who determines that he should "assist" Hamilton. Theirs is an uneasy friendship, enhanced by the remaining cast of characters, whom you will meet when you read the book. Much is made of the fact that Billy is a dwarf, but that is what makes him so interesting. It enables him to get away with things typically sized people would not. He is a fascinating, multidimensional character who is far more an intellectual than people give him credit for, much more political than casual acquaintances would guess, and passionate about Indonesia, something he keeps mostly to himself. Koch weaves a great tale here: part mystery, part political espionage thriller, a little bit of romance (but not enough to put you off), and all of it packed into 300 pages of Indonesian atmosphere. It is a carefully crafted masterpiece of storytelling that I highly recommend. While readily available on shelves in Australian bookstores, it is likely less well known in the states. Too bad, Koch's books are worth every penny.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 1997
Not in a long time have I read a seemingly little book so slowly. I must confess I bought the paperback for fifty cents at a used book store for the romantic title (I love travelogues), a picture of a young Mel Gibson (but the
cover was the only piece of fluff in the book!) and because I was too cheap to rent the movie. I knew little about
either the 1982 movie (also featuring a younger Sigourney Weaver) or the poetic Australian author and
journalist, C. J. Koch.
Friendship, romance, idealism, obsession and ultimately betrayal are woven amongst historical and political intrigue as a group of foreign correspondents is stationed in Indonesia during turbulent 1965. Indonesia? I knew little more about this country since the time I lived in Kingston, Jamaica and one of my letters mistakenly posted to the capital city of the NEXT tiny island nation on the equator: Jakarta, Indonesia.
Let me leave you just enough detail about some of the characters to spark your curiousity: There's Billy Kwan, a half Chinese-Australian cameraman who happens to be a dwarf. His eccentric political philosophies loom large in comparison to his tiny stature. Billy's partner and idol, Guy Hamilton, is a Western journalist and an ambitious, solitary soul desperate to make a name for himself. Jill is an expatriate embassy secretary, suspicious, vulnerable and still naive after a succession of mismatched romantic involvements. Wally O'Sullivan, or "The Great Wally," as he is called, is the group's unofficial leader and respected news veteran. He is enormously fat and harbors his own secret sorrows despite the numerous parties he hosts.
Before the war in Vietnam consumed the world's attention, Indonesia had it's brief moment in the international
spotlight. The dictatorial, charismatic, Western-hating President Sukarno called upon his small, bitterly poor nation to defy U.N. convention and invade neighboring Malaysia. What happens to Indonesia's future if his plan succeeds is the crucible in which the fates of Koch's colorful characters are depicted. Intricately laced with many fascinating and unfamiliar elements, The Year of Living Dangerously is told in such a way that the reader can feel as if part of the tightly knit circle of "international press corps" who gather every day for Happy Hour in the Wayang Bar at the Hotel Indonesia to discuss the day's events or Sukarno's latest propaganda speech. Not a single character was ever who they seemed and exposing layer after articulate layer was half the pleasure of the trip. I was able to sightsee a little on that "other" island, one continent east, along the equator. Kochs describes it as the "Gate of the World. . . the most crowded island on earth [yet] as you fly into Java from Sumatra, over the Sunda Straits, [Indonesia] appears mysteriously devoid of human settlement. Indigo cones of volcanoes rise into the clouds from jade territories which seem as empty as those of the world's dawn. But these are the paddy fields and terraces the people cultivate to the very rims of the craters. President Sukarno tells us in his speeches that Java's spirit is the terrible volcano Merapi, which seems to sleep, but is always ready to explode in violence."

A few of my favorite passages follow: (in the opening pages) ... I awaited the appearance of a successor with
some interest. Kwan jerked around suddenly and squinted across the doorway where a tall man in a well-cut
tan suit had made the obligatory blind halt to adjust to the Wayang's night. 'This'll be Hamilton,' he said, and
dropped like an acrobat from his stool to the floor. Fists slightly clenched, elbows out from his sides, he
hurried off, with a ghost of that rocking motion peculiar to the large-headed dwarfs one sometimes passes in
the street. The newcomer's face, caught in the glow of the nearby candle, looked startled when he found
himself confronted by Kwan. The cameraman extended his hand, tilting his head back and offering his broad
Chinese grin. As he came with Kwan towards the round bar, Hamilton's tallness was fantastically
exaggerated. The spiky head only just reached his elbow; it was as the new man walked with a strange child.

(Later in the book) A silence fell in which they stood and looked at each other, as though trying to decide
something. A panel of sun lay between them on the glazed ochre titles of the floor; the dusty quiet took on an
illusion of tenderness as the blades of the aged fan gestured above their heads. After they became lovers,
they would look back on this brink, and admit that each had guessed the other's awareness. Despite past
affairs, they were both still young enough for the excitement which springs from sensing that a story has begun
whose end can't be foreseen; and they were both old enough to know that life could offer them few if anymore
such beginnings. ******************************************************** This as well as most of Koch's books may
be hard to find, but I assure you they're worth the wait and adventure.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2007
I grew up in SE Asia and I was enthralled when I first saw the movie. Two decades later I finally got to reading the book.

First thing is that Kock is a beautiful writer. Some of his sentences just blew me away. Especially when he describes Indonesia. He completely captures all the senses and you're right there on a hot Jakarta night with the aroma of clove cigarettes. He's a journalist so his knowledge of the underlying political event surrounding the novel are impressive as well. If you want to understand the unsteady and inscrutable world of SE Asian politics then this book will be a great introduction.

I think the book is weak in a few areas that prevent it from becoming a class. The critical failure is that the reader does not identify with any characters in the novel. The protagonist is Guy Hamilton and we're allowed to see his thoughts but I don't think we deeply relate to him. He's too shallow of a character. His main issues are that he's afraid of relationship commitment and he hasn't been able to succeed at work. Nothing too interesting here. Jill is also somewhat distant and I didn't feel the passion between them. The movie did a far better job of this. Billy, the dwarf, is the deepest character but he's too creepy to relate to.

The second issue is point of view. It's written from the point of view of another journalist, Cookie, who sees Guy and the other characters and writes the story. However we're able to get into Guy's brain and this switching between Cookie's view and Guy's internal thoughts is confusing.

The conflict never built up sufficiently either. We knew from what Cookie said that Billy would die and he would meet Guy in London later.

It's a good read especially if you want to be immersed in all that is SE Asia - mysticism, smells, poverty, riches, cruelty, passion. From that point I enjoyed reading it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1998
This novel of international intrigue makes an exciting read. It is also a good place to start for Western readers (like me) who don't know much about Indonesia and its history. What sets it apart from all the other hard-boiled romances about journalists in danger is the author's real compassion for his characters, their frailties and their aspirations, as well as for Indonesia itself. The Year of Living Dangerously is thrilling but not manipulative, sensitive but not maudlin. It explains Indonesia to novices without patronizing. It is an important book which goes way beyond the boundaries of any genre.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2003
Though at times I found Koch's style a bit flowery and overly sentimental, this is a wonderfully written book. The story sheds some light on the power struggles that were going on in Indonesia in 1965, leading up to September 30's overthrow of Sukarno--an anti-colonialist hero turned decadent dictator. This book is interesting because it overturns the classic notion of the heroic Westerner and the loyal sidekick. Guy, the main character, is far from perfect. His "sidekicks," Kumar and Billy Kwan (one of contemporary literatures most intriguing characters) are ultimately and disasterously disillusioned with him. Even Jill, Guy's love interest, is not your typical "exotic" woman--the one that so often appears in stories like these. Jill is all too much like a real woman for Guy. And this is what makes Guy and the other main characters so intimate and illuminating for the reader--their flawed yet ultimately good intentions. In the end, the narrator (the mysterious, observant "Cookie") witholds judgment on the characters, on Sukarno, on Indonesia--and what remains is compassion...a great reward for a great story.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 1999
This book is full of what makes a novel great. it provides insight into the time, sukarno and the attitudes and sweaty lifestyles of the journalists reporting the tempestous events of 1965. What makes this book so great is the mystism created through the wonderful characterisation and shady backdrops.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 1999
... and what a better time to read this book set against the backdrop of radical social upheaval. Though the story takes place three decades ago, it could just as well be happening today. Excellent background reading for anybody with an interest in what's happening in the world's fourth most populous nation, with the world's largest number of Muslim people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 1997
Not in a long time have I read a seemingly little book so slowly. I must confess I bought the paperback for fifty
cents at a used book store for the romantic title (I love travelogues), a picture of a young Mel Gibson (but the
cover was the only piece of fluff in the book!) and because I was too cheap to rent the movie. I knew little about
either the 1982 movie (also featuring a younger Sigourney Weaver) or the poetic Australian author and
journalist, C. J. Koch. Friendship, romance, idealism, obsession and ultimately betrayal are woven amongst
historical and political intrigue as a group of foreign correspondents is stationed in Indonesia during turbulent
1965. Indonesia? I knew little more about this country since the time I lived in Kingston, Jamaica and one of
my letters mistakenly posted to the capital city of the NEXT tiny island nation on the equator: Jakarta,
Indonesia. Let me leave you just enough detail about some of the characters to spark your curiousity: There's
Billy Kwan, a half Chinese-Australian cameraman who happens to be a dwarf. His eccentric political
philosophies loom large in comparison to his tiny stature. Billy's partner and idol, Guy Hamilton, is a Western
journalist and an ambitious, solitary soul desperate to make a name for himself. Jill is an expatriate embassy
secretary, suspicious, vulnerable and still naive after a succession of mismatched romantic involvements.
Wally O'Sullivan, or "The Great Wally," as he is called, is the group's unofficial leader and respected news
veteran. He is enormously fat and harbors his own secret sorrows despite the numerous parties he hosts.
Before the war in Vietnam consumed the world's attention, Indonesia had it's brief moment in the international
spotlight. The dictatorial, charismatic, Western-hating President Sukarno called upon his small, bitterly poor
nation to defy U.N. convention and invade neighboring Malaysia. What happens to Indonesia's future if his
plan succeeds is the crucible in which the fates of Koch's colorful characters are depicted. Intricately laced
with many fascinating and unfamiliar elements, The Year of Living Dangerously is told in such a way that the
reader can feel as if part of the tightly knit circle of "international press corps" who gather every day for Happy
Hour in the Wayang Bar at the Hotel Indonesia to discuss the day's events or Sukarno's latest propaganda
speech. Not a single character was ever who they seemed and exposing layer after articulate layer was half
the pleasure of the trip. I was able to sightsee a little on that "other" island, one continent east, along the
equator. Kochs describes it as the "Gate of the World. . . the most crowded island on earth [yet] as you fly into
Java from Sumatra, over the Sunda Straits, [Indonesia] appears mysteriously devoid of human settlement.
Indigo cones of volcanoes rise into the clouds from jade territories which seem as empty as those of the
world's dawn. But these are the paddy fields and terraces the people cultivate to the very rims of the craters.
President Sukarno tells us in his speeches that Java's spirit is the terrible volcano Merapi, which seems to
sleep, but is always ready to explode in violence." A few of my favorite passages follow: (in the opening
pages) ... I awaited the appearance of a successor with some interest. Kwan jerked around suddenly and
squinted across the doorway where a tall man in a well-cut tan suit had made the obligatory blind halt to adjust
to the Wayang's night. 'This'll be Hamilton,' he said, and dropped like an acrobat from his stool to the floor.
Fists slightly clenched, elbows out from his sides, he hurried off, with a ghost of that rocking motion peculiar to
the large-headed dwarfs one sometimes passes in the street. The newcomer's face, caught in the glow of the
nearby candle, looked startled when he found himself confronted by Kwan. The cameraman extended his
hand, tilting his head back and offering his broad Chinese grin. As he came with Kwan towards the round bar,
Hamilton's tallness was fantastically exaggerated. The spiky head only just reached his elbow; it was as the
new man walked with a strange child. (Later in the book) A silence fell in which they stood and looked at each
other, as though trying to decide something. A panel of sun lay between them on the glazed ochre titles of the
floor; the dusty quiet took on an illusion of tenderness as the blades of the aged fan gestured above their
heads. After they became lovers, they would look back on this brink, and admit that each had guessed the
other's awareness. Despite past affairs, they were both still young enough for the excitement which springs
from sensing that a story has begun whose end can't be foreseen; and they were both old enough to know that
life could offer them few if anymore such beginnings. ******************************************************** This as
well as most of Koch's books may be hard to find, but I assure you they're worth the wait and adventure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2001
If you have been a scholar of Indonesian language and culture, or if you merely read world news, you can't escape the controversy that lurks behind every corner of this novel. I almost felt I could be thrown in a Javanese prison as a Communist even for considering the views expressed in Christopher J. Koch's insight into Indonesia in the 1970s/1980s. I'll admit, the characters are stereotyped with big-shot journo, Guy Hamilton and his faithful (?) off-sider with a "dark side", but unusual however is the narration and subsequent commentary of "Cookie" whoever he was. Reminded me strongly of Tim O'Brian's, "In the Lake of The Woods". The analogy of the Wayang, a tongue-in-cheek view that the Indonesian people were merely puppets to the Sukarno government added a richness and depth to the text. Perhaps the plot of Jill was a little sappy, but if one wanted a crash course in Javanese culture at street level, combined with an interesting storyline...give this book a chance. If nothing, it will give you a glimpse of the vast differences in socio-economic status and culture that exists in this country.
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