A Tale from Bali
by Vicki Baum

A Tale from Bali, a novel by Vicki Baum, provides us with a look at Bali during the Dutch colonial period. This is an important novel to read before visiting Bali. What seems like an idyllic island (which in many ways it is) has had quite a turbulent and violent history. Peasants as well as their Dutch overlords come to life in Baum's fascinating story.


"When I got home from the little Government hospital, where I had spent the whole morning attending to various cases of fever, severe bamboo cuts and tropical ulcers, I found a bicycle leaning against the wall at my gate. I hurried across the courtyard, for I was curious to know who my visitor was. My Dutch friends like to make fun of me because my place is built in the native style – a house of whitewashed daub with a portico, surrounded by a number of smaller buildings or balés. Balés are raised platforms with roofs of alang-alang grass resting on posts." – A Tale from Bali, Periplus Editions, 2000 edition.

A House In Bali
by Colin McPhee

Colin McPhee was a young American composer who fell in love with the sound of gamelan music from Indonesia and decided to visit Bali in the 1930s. Not surprisingly he stayed as long as possible (until the beginning of the war) and documented many aspects of Balinese life. This classic text is a wonderful introduction to Bali, especially its music and puppet dramas. But McPhee also immerses himself with pleasure in the whole of Balinese life. Although outwardly Bali has modernized, the culture has stayed much the same, and this book continues to ring true.


"McPhee seems to have had a deep, almost innate sympathy for Bali and the Balinese he paints a detailed picture of the ritual and social context of Balinese life ... a graceful and fascinating picture."– Robert Tilendis, Green Man Review

"I was a young composer, recently back in New York after student days in Paris, and the past two years had been filled with composing and the business of getting performances. It was quite by accident that I had heard the few gramophone records that were to change my life completely, bringing me out here in search of something quite indefinable – music or experience, I could not at this moment say. The records had been made in Bali, and the clear, metallic sounds of the music were like the stirring of a thousand bells, delicate, confused, with a sensuous charm, a mystery that was quite overpowering." – A House in Bali, Periplus Editions, 2000 edition.

The Girl From the Coast
by Pramoedya Toer

An Indonesian writer best known for his quartet of historical fiction: The Buru Quartet, Pramoedya Toer is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Due to his writings on socio-political issues he was many times sent to prison or under house arrest. The Girl from the Coast is the story of a young girl in an arranged marriage to an aristocrat in the city. Based on the life of the author's grandmother, this beautiful novel, with its gentle heroine, depicts a time when the poor were victimized over and over by the wealthy. It is clear from Pramoedya Toer's vibrant prose that he loves his country: its rural landscapes, the sea. Read this book before tackling The Buru Quartet.


"A classic ... enacted with tremendous, restrained gravity." – Los Angeles Times

"A compulsively readable novel." – Salon.com

"She was only fourteen at the time, a wisp of a thing. Her profile, the line of her nose, was nothing extraordinary, but she was attractive, nonetheless, with honey-colored skin and slightly slanted eyes. In her fishing village outside the regency seat of Rembang on the north coast of Java, she was the flower of the town. ...xThe girl's life, her soul, was each day filled by the sound of the waves and the sight of the small fishing boats that set off at dawn and returned in the late-afternoon or early-evening hours to the river's estuary. There the boats set anchor, unloaded their catch, and waited until the next morning when buyers would come from the city for the day's auction. ...xShe had left the nineteenth century behind and entered the twentieth." – The Girl From the Coast, Hyperion, 2002 edition.

Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
by Multatuli

I'm sure the subtitle could put a reader off this book; however, it's a classic of Dutch literature. Written by a former Dutch civil servant in Java (he uses a pen name) the tale is funny, emotional and full of character types whom you will never forget, such as the coffee broker Mr. Droogstoppel. Just pronounce this name aloud and you will laugh! This book caused a furor when it was published in Holland in 1860 as it revealed the corrupt and harsh Dutch colonial treatment of the Javanese. Set both in Java and Holland.


"... Max Havelaar is more than a polemical tract or autobiographical novel. It's innovative style, superb characterization and, above all, its vitality and pungent satire make it a powerful literary work in its own right." – R.P. Meijer from the Introduction

"I am a coffee broker, and I live at No. 37 Lauriergracht, Amsterdam. I am not in the habit of writing novels or things of that sort, and so I have been a long time making up my mind to buy a few extra reams of paper and start on the work which you, dear reader, have just taken up, and which you must read if you are a coffee broker, or if you are anything else. Not only have I never written anything that resembled a novel, I don't even like reading such things, because I'm a businessman. For years I've been asking myself what is the use of them, and I am amazed at the impudence with which a poet or story-teller dares to palm off on you something that never happened, and usually never could happen." – Max Havelaar, Penguin Classics, 1995 edition.