Monday, June 13, 2011

Revolt in Paradise

by K'Tut Tantri

Thumbs up.

I picked this book up at a second hand store, while just quickly perusing the shelves and randomly grabbing books with covers or titles that looked interesting.  I'm glad I did.  Although I read this book several months ago, I didn't take the time to write about it immediately, so I'll have to try to reconstruct all the thoughts I had at that time.

K'tut Tantri as she came to be known, was born in Scotland, of Manx (from the Isle of Man) parentage.  She moved with her mother after the first World War to Hollywood, California, where she eventually ended up writing for British publications about various facets of the film industry.  But K'tut describes herself as having too much of the Manx in her to really fit in, in America.  She was an artist and a dreamer.

After seeing a film set in Bali, she decided that is where she was meant to be.  She packed up and moved there in a somewhat haphazard fashion, with little money or preparation.

The book describes her life there, from her first interactions with the Dutch colonial government; to her stumbling upon the palace of the Rajah and coming to secure the close friendship of the Rajah's son, Anak Agung Nura; her stint as a hotel operator; her imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese during World War II; and her time as a freedom fighter for the Indonesians.

I found her account fascinating.  I learned much about the history of Indonesia.  I was appalled at the treatment of the Indonesian peoples by the Dutch during the colonial era, and especially in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when Indonesians were seeking their freedom.

The book would be a useful tie-in when teaching about imperialism or for a southeast Asian supplement to a World War II unit.  The content is appropriate for any age; I think the writing itself could be readily enjoyed by a capable junior high aged reader.

I've read a little more about K'tut Tantri since reading this book. Although the book is presented as non-fiction, historians and anthropologists would find her account a reflection of the artistic and dreamy personality embodied in K'tut.  It's filled with a good bit of truth, but also, disappointingly, contains a fantasy element.  I found this obituary interesting.

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