Vignettes of a Malaysian forestry worker’s career with a timber company.
This slender debut, an as-told-to memoir written by Linggi about his colleague Laing Imang, offers a rare peek inside a controversial industry in an exotic locale. Both worked for Samling Corporation, which, since the 1970s, has logged virgin rain forest in East Malaysia on the northern coast of Borneo. Laing wanted to join the army after college, but his village chief dissuaded him, hence the title. In 1981, after getting married and farming for 10 years, he “became involved” (the book doesn’t say how) in the first major anti-logging protest in Malaysia. Afterward, Samling hired him as a forest surveyor. Beyond plotting roads and cataloging trees, he often negotiated with indigenous tribes who set up blockades to protest the destruction of the forests—not only their source of food and livelihood but a habitat unrivaled for its biodiversity. These protests, which continue today and are aided by international environmental groups, create a broad potential audience for the book. Throughout, the writing is crisp and grammatical but too compact. The summary approach—10 chapters and three appendices in 37 pages—stifles character development and narrative flow. Despite the cover and preface, promising the “trials and tribulations” that Lingii and Laing shared, the brevity, pace and tone tend to mute conflicts and flatten personal experiences. Some passages read like a corporate report or company newsletter. Native words introduced throughout add flavor, but without sufficient scene-setting, the references to local villages, rivers and mountains often slow the reading. One small-scale map helps but offers little regional context, though about three dozen color photographs add enormously to the brief text. In terms of length, voice and subject development, the work seems more suited for a trade journal than a book, but regardless of format, more connecting tissue would help hold the parts together. Although well worth the short time required to read it, the book is certain to leave readers wanting more.
A sapling that could grow into a sturdy tree.