Did you know that Vietnam was colonised by the French and had been at war for 10 years before the USA invaded? Did you know that up until 1998, Indonesia had only ever had 2 Indonesian Presidents?
I love to read and I love to travel. That much is obvious. I love reading even more when I can read about travel, and actually learn something from it about the places I have visited or am about to visit.
These two novels, set in Southeast Asia, have some grounding in true events, and will give you insight into the politics and culture of Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma before you go. Each of them has some controversy, and any controversial book is generally worth reading!
The Quiet American
Set in Vietnam, this anti-war novel was a best seller in its day and author Graeme Greene was called anti-American for the themes contained.
The Quiet American is set in Vietnam in 1955, 12 years before the U.S. officially became involved in Vietnam. But for those who don’t know, Vietnam was at war long before the Americans set foot in Indochina.
Full of intrigue and espionage and littered with reference to the streets of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, The Quiet American is a classic (and short) novel that will have you longing for steamy nights in Saigon.
Year of Living Dangerously
Set in Sukarno’s Indonesia, Year of Living Dangerously follows a group of expatriate journalists in Jakarta before and during a coup attempt on September 30, 1965. A number of high ranking generals of Sukarno’s military were killed, and ultimately Sukarno was deposed making way for President Suharto.
Both were extremely authoritarian leaders, and its a worthwhile read to find some of the very modern history which influences Indonesia’s politics and culture today.
The title refers to former Indonesian President Sukarno’s speech, in which he declared 1965 the year of living dangerously. This novel was eventually made into an Australian film starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, which was banned in Indonesia up until 1999.
Are there any novels that you would recommend to read before visiting a new country? Which ones?
(photo by Ian Wilson)
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