DISTANT ISLANDS: Crossing Indonesia's Ring of Fire by Charles Philip Corn

DISTANT ISLANDS: Crossing Indonesia's Ring of Fire

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Travel-writer Corn (The New York Times, etc.) goes to Indonesia to satisfy his lifelong curiosity about the vast, 13,677-island archipelago. Setting out with only a vague itinerary and a determination to take travel as it comes, Corn begins his adventures in Jakarta, a teeming city of eight million, where he is accosted by transvestites; and concludes them in Padang a port city where he stays overnight at an isolated, near-empty hotel run by a coquettish middle-aged Englishwoman. In between are stops in Bali, a legendary paradise now overrun with Australian tourists; Sumba, where a Chinese guide gives the author a tour by motorbike; Timor, where he has a run-in with local authorities regarding off-limits territories; Kupang, the island where Captain Bligh landed after the Bounty mutineers set him adrift; and the now nearly forgotten Spice Islands, which once were fiercely fought over for their precious crops of cloves, nutmeg and mace. Many of Corn's descriptions are wonderfully fresh (""The skipper is a rail-thin man, sleek as a sea bird and blackened by the sun, squatting on his haunches and sipping his tea"") and many of his anecdotes are charming; the quality of delight that he describes as characteristic of the Indonesian people is mirrored in his writing He also provides just enough background information to clarify but not stultify. But some of the book's strengths are also its weaknesses: This is very much a once-over-lightly account, with the narrator hopping from island to island so quickly and frequently that it is often hard to keep either him or Indonesia in clear focus. A map is also sorely missing. Still, a fresh, well-written account of a journey through an often-overlooked region.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking