I recently read a headline online which simply said 'Yes, Live In Jakarta', and I wondered which of the pairs in the gubernatorial election to be held this coming July was putting a positive spin on life here. All I've heard from them up to now is which of the many problems facing the megapolis they intend to prioritise.
Of course, and once again, I was wrong. The article actually referred to a gig on the world tour of the near-geriatric prog-rock group Yes; tickets cost more than a circuit judge's monthly salary.
There are so many stimuli assaulting one's senses in Jakarta that trying to understand it all without the insights of others is nigh on impossible. Whether stuck in a traffic jam or a meeting to discuss when the next meeting should take place, or you just want to switch off for a while, a good solution is to always have a good book in your backpack or briefcase.
The following are partial lists of what is on my bookshelves about Jakarta, past and present. They are arranged in chronological order according to the periods they are set in.
Historical Sights of Jakarta
– Adolf Heuken. pub. Times Books International,1989.
Numerous maps and illustrations, and details of little-known, and often neglected, historical places of interest.
A Certain Age
– Rudolph Mrázek. pub. Duke University Press 2010
Colonial Jakarta through the memories of its intellectuals. An academic work which is very readable.
In The Time Of Madness
– Richard Lloyd Parry. pub. Jonathon Cape 2005
A journalist witnesses the revolution in 1998 which saw the abdication of President Suharto.
Eyes of God
– Philip Babcock. pub. Edgeworth Press 2011
A multi-levelled Conradian thriller is set in the turbulent times of 97/98. Babcock was blacklisted and deported presumably because he was a pawn in the struggles for slices of Pertamina following the injection of IMF funds. The introductory passages are set in Jakarta gangs, a five star-hotel and the American Embassy.
Jakarta Inside out
– Daniel Ziv. pub. Desa Kota 4th edition 2009
A street level look and "a love letter to a city [he's] been proud to call home for over a decade."
Through short incisive commentaries which accompany candid photos,.Ziv provides insights into the chaotic reality of everyday life in the city.
– pub. Jakarta Globe 2010
A compilation of Jakarta Globe interviews with Jakarta residents talking about – erm – "My Jakarta".
– Irfan Kortschak. pub. Mercy Corps 2008
Selected portraits of Jakarta’s itinerant street vendors – tales of strength in adversity rather than despair and defeat.
Jakarta, Jayakarta, Batavia
– ed. Leonard Lueras. pub. Yayasan Bali Purnati 2008.
A coffee table tome with essays and fine photos – an excellent souvenir of your stay.
Culture Shock! Jakarta
– Terry Collins and Derek Bacon. pub. Marshall Cavendish 2nd edition 2011
fr. Amazon review: As an Indonesian born and living around Jakarta, reading this book still managed to give me insights about the little and not-so-little things that escaped my attention.
(No apologies for an unashamed plug.)
The Year Of Living Dangerously
– C.J.Koch. pub. Grafton 1978
About journalists waiting for the revolution in 1965 which saw the downfall of President Sukarno. Banned during the Suharto era as was the movie, starring Mel Gibson, which has recently been shown on local TV.
Monkeys In The Dark
– Blanche d'Alpuget. pub. Aurora 1980
Life in Jakarta among expats in the inter-regnum between the '65 coup and Sukarno's exile.
+ not Jakarta specific, but Batavia features strongly.
– Mike Dash. pub. Three Rivers Press N.Y. 2002
“The true story of the mad heretic who led history’s bloodiest mutiny – in 1629”
– Giles Milton pub. Sceptre 1999
“A galloping good jaunt through the early days of western interaction with the Spice Islands.”
Ups and Downs of Life In The Indies
– P.A.Daum. pub. Periplus 1999
Dutch colonial life in the nineteenth century.
By Indonesian writers
Twilight In Jakarta
– Mochtar Lubis (1963)
The first Indonesian novel to be translated into English in 1964. His tale of life in the kampungs, with its politics, poverty, corruption and crime, when he was a thorn in the side of Sukarno, still seems relevant today.
– Ayu Utami. (1998) Translation pub. Equinox. 2005
Utami covers many of Indonesia's social ills, such as exploitation of plantation workers, political oppression, religious and sexual identity, in the last years of Suharto's regime. This is an outstanding and courageous novel, with echoes for today.
Also worth reading is anything by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.
Those wishing to delve into academia will find a myriad theses and articles published by universities and smaller publishing houses. You can read about the history, geography, ecology, culture and more of the archipelago from pre-historic times to the current reformasi era.
Publishes a wide range of non-fiction, mainly in the business and political arenas, They also republish long-out-of-print works, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as new works by, e.g. Michael Vatikiotis and translations e.g. Ayu Utami's Sanam (see below).
Browse their catalogue for high-quality illustrated books, dictionaries and maps on Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries.
Since its founding in 1987 Lontar has concentrated its efforts on creating a 'market' for Indonesian literature abroad through the steady publication of Indonesian literary titles in English translation.
Yayasan Bali Purnati
Coffee table tomes with fine photographs illustrating essays from local contributors.
Blogs and other Websites.
Even a blind man can see that more folk carry 'smart' phones than carry books. If you are one of those, then there are several non-commercial websites, especially blogs, which offer different insights into Jakarta. We bloggers come and go and are rarely objective but these are my current favourites:
Rujak.org – for a sustainable Jakarta (in Indonesian).
Bataviase – loads of links and info (in Indonesian).
Jakarta Kid – insightful stories of Jakarta's street kids.
Jakarta 100 Bars – as it says on the tin.
Jakarta Daily Photo – ditto.
Gangs of Indonesia – fine photo-journalism.
Jakarta Restaurant Reviews – as it says.
Inside Indonesia – monthly, with email subscriptions, readable, wide ranging in-depth articles.
The late David Jardine wrote many book reviews for Tempo magazine and other publications. Most of them have been archived here.
First published in Jakarta Expat 69th edition (9th-22nd May 2012)