While there is new hope in the election of populist Joko Widodo, this new chapter has yet to be written. A trenchant,...

DEMOKRASI

INDONESIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY

An exploration of Indonesia’s shaky but resolute move into democracy.

Former Sydney Morning Herald Asia-Pacific editor McDonald (Mahabharata in Polyester: The Making of the World's Richest Brothers and Their Feud, 2010, etc.) has been covering the developments in Indonesia since the waning of Suharto’s long authoritarian rule (1966-1998). The author begins with a brief sketch of the populous archipelago’s early history, encompassing glorious Javanese empires thriving from its strategic location within the east-west navigation routes. He then looks at the dispersal of the Malay language and spotty conversion to Islam in the early 15th century, leaving (still) many pockets of Hindu and Buddhist adherents. The legacy of the colonial era centered on exploitation of its trade rather than the uplift of its people: By 1905, 37 million people were ruled by an armed force of 16,000 Europeans. Indonesian national consciousness would ignite in the 1920s, giving rise to the country’s first liberator, Sukarno, whose collaboration with the Japanese occupiers during World War II helped galvanize support for independence. McDonald then moves through convulsive periods to Indonesia’s coming-of-age: the country’s first election in 1955; the coup of 1965 by Suharto, which left a wave of slaughter and ushered in a “new order” marked by American-trained technocrats directing the economy; rigged elections; widespread patronage; eruption of independence movements in East Timor, Papua and elsewhere; the rise of fundamentalist Islamic groups; and the “octopus-like hold” by the military on all institutions. Yet reforms began to infiltrate through the short terms of an array of subsequent civilian presidents and what McDonald sees as fierce public support for the “civilianization of politics.” Along with signs of modernity are a growing awareness of environmental despoilment, appreciation of the immigrant Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and a growing call for religious toleration.

While there is new hope in the election of populist Joko Widodo, this new chapter has yet to be written. A trenchant, well-researched book.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1863956611

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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