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“Indonesia etc …” is a fundamental book if you want to start discovering this country, one of the richest in the world of beauty and contradictions
“I had one rule: always say yes. Considering that Indonesians are one of the most hospitable peoples on the planet, there would have been many. Tea with the sultan? “Fantastic!” Attend a wedding procession? “I’d love that!” Visiting a leper colony? “Surely!” Sleeping under a tree with a nomad family? “Why not?” Dog for dinner? “Oooh, sure.” This policy took me to islands I had never heard of. I was welcomed into the homes of priests and peasants, policemen and fishermen, teachers, bus drivers, soldiers, nurses. I traveled mostly by ship and on noisy, rickety buses that fired Indo-pop at maximum volume and had vomit bags hanging from the roof. Sometimes, however, I have had a charter flight or have taken refuge in a comfortable leather seat in a car with tinted windows. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have not been treated kindly. And also the number of days I haven’t talked about corruption, incompetence, injustice and the low blows of cruel fate “.
Indonesia etc. is the story of a 20,000 km long adventure across Indonesian land, sea and sky. The author traveled alone, by all means, using empathy and observation skills to offer us a funny story without being banal, informative and never boring.
It had been a long time that I had intended to bring some insights into Indonesia, a country that is often cited as one of those “with the largest number of Muslims in the world”, but of which, personally, I really knew nothing; with this book the mists of ignorance clear up, allowing the reader to come into contact with a vast country full of variety and paradoxes. To try to show it to us in the best possible way (even if, as the author says, Indonesia is by nature indefinable), Elizabeth Pisani will travel about 20,000 km between Java, Sumatra, Borneo and many smaller islands, illustrating a certain aspect of Indonesian society or peoples (there are more than 1300 ethnic groups and more than 700 languages). We move from modern Jakarta and the history of the country to islands such as Sumba or Sambihe, located respectively in the extreme South and the extreme North of Indonesia, places where the effects of the decentralization of power and ancient traditions are extremely evident. Another extremely interesting place is the Moluccas, the place of origin of most of the spices still consumed today, including cloves, with which kretek, a particular type of local cigarettes, are made in Indonesia.
Moving to Sumatra we will instead be able to observe Aceh and its history, made up of Islam as well as tsunamis and tensions with Jakarta, going to immerse ourselves in the jungle of the hinterland thanks to the Orang rimba, a people of nomads who still live hidden from the rest of the world. . The beauty of this book lies in the fact that, although starting from a “simple travel diary”, the author goes into the depths of what she observes, trying to ask herself why and thus giving way to very interesting reflections that cross every aspect of the various Indonesian cultures. Pisani, however, is always clear: this book can only be a taste, a smattering of what Indonesia is and represents, a country so large that it can be considered a small universe apart. If like me you are curious to discover new things and you really don’t know anything about Indonesia, this is the book for you, a sort of “Sovietistan” in an Indonesian version. In the future, we should look into some of its themes more carefully.
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