A brave, lively writer opens up a wondrous, changing nation.



An elucidating journey through the myriad-island republic.

Journalist and epidemiologist Pisani (The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, 2008) took a year to trek among the archipelago nation she grew to admire more than 20 years before, when she posted there as a reporter for Reuters news agency. Branching out from the dominant island of Java, home to 60 percent of all Indonesians, and its modern capital of Jakarta, the author found among numerous smaller and less visited islands—as there are nearly 13,500 islands containing over 360 ethnic groups, by her estimate, she could only visit a fraction—a richness and diversity. She discovered much that was “friendly” but “schizophrenic,” “shambolic” and “unpredictable,” a vying for modernity and traditional values with plenty of elements still being figured out. Declared independent in 1945, after the defeat of the Japanese occupiers, and before that, the deeply resented Dutch, whose merchants had exploited for centuries the rich spices (cloves, nutmeg) and pearls along the archipelago, Indonesia is a nation cobbled together by the long tradition of trading, by the lingua franca of Malay, and by the astute charisma and nationalist philosophy of its founding leader, Sukarno. As a woman traveling solo, Pisani encountered some frustrating questions from villagers—e.g., why she didn’t have children—but she was usually embraced by the familial hospitality of the people she met. She unearths interesting material about the surprising, delightful and frequently bewildering spectacle of adat—a prideful tradition—which encompasses obligations, spirituality and poverty. Speaking the language and living among the villagers helped Pisani navigate this delicate system of barter and honor. She finds Indonesia gaining democratic agency after a troubling history of authoritarianism, separatist movements, the tsunami of 2004, a mismanagement of natural resources and an urgently needed bolstering of the education system.

A brave, lively writer opens up a wondrous, changing nation.

Pub Date: June 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-08858-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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