Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Re-reading The Year of Living Dangerously, by Christopher J Koch

This brought back memories!

Newbie foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton arrives in Jakarta in 1965, the year of living dangerously. Left adrift by his predecessor, keen to avoid the ‘geriatrics’ ward’ of the Sydney news-room, he is befriended by Chinese-Australian cameraman Billy Kwan, and together they become quite the team. Both hybrids, both outsiders, the tall Anglo-Australian reporter and the dwarf cameraman cover events across Indonesia, a country descending into chaos under the charismatic, eccentric leadership of President Sukarno.

Narrated by self-effacing veteran correspondent Cookie, The Year of Living Dangerously is an evocative, thrilling read, bringing a country and a culture to vivid, adrenaline-spiked life. This is the Indonesia of dizzy nationalism, of Konfrontasi, or Confrontation; an Indonesia about to go undergo violent, bloody change.

The writing is sharp and thoughtful and occasionally beautiful. Award-winning Australian writer Christopher J Koch brings to life the pressure cooker world of the foreign correspondent, a world full of grand, flawed and sometimes pathetic characters.

The book was made into a film in 1982, directed by Peter Weir and starring Mel Gibson (before he went peculiar) and Sigourney Weaver, along with, most memorably, Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan. Koch co-wrote the screenplay, which received an Oscar nomination, as did Linda Hunt for her extraordinary performance. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role in 1984.

The Year of Living Dangerously was an overdue re-read. First bought while travelling in Australia a few years ago, it has travelled well, ending up on my mother’s bookshelf in Italy. She enjoyed it, as did my brother. I read it again when I last visited, temporarily transporting myself from cold Friuli to the steaming streets of Jakarta. It was an absorbing journey, and it always makes me want to write. I should probably read it more often, in the hopes that something of its absorbing prose will rub off!