Shadow plays: a dark time in Indonesia, seen through two complementary prisms

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Author: Lawrence Pintak
Date: January-February 2006
From: Columbia Journalism Review(Vol. 44, Issue 5)
Publisher: Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,932 words

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IN THE TIME OF MADNESS, by Richard Lloyd Parry Jonathan Cape. 315 pp. $24


In 1997, as Indonesia's economy was crumbling, I moved my family from Jakarta to Bali, putting some distance between nay children and the gathering stoma clouds in the capital. We settled on a house in a village near the island's spiritual heart, Ubud, built by a well-known documentary-maker who had been killed in a freak accident. Just before we moved in, my wife visited a dukun, or traditional seer. The spirit of the land on which the house was built, the dukun warned, took a human life every few years. It intended to take a female life next.

For my wife, whose own bloodline extends back to Indonesia's other mystical power center, the royal kraton (palace) of Solo on the island of Java, there was no question. We had two daughters; we would find another house. I did not object. I had been in Indonesia long enough to know one did not challenge the unseen forces. "There is light and there is darkness" the village headman had told me a few days before the warning. "They must always be kept in balance."

It was near there that the British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry first experienced the blurred line between light and dark, between dream and reality, that is woven through In the Time of Madness, his intensely personal account of covering Indonesia during the final years of President Suharto's rule. "After I had fallen asleep with the jungle in my ears, I dreamed of knives and laces," he recalls in the prologue. "Of a mobile telephone that would not stop ringing and of endless conversations with a man named Colonel Mehmet." Over the next three years, the mysterious colonel would continue to haunt Party's dreams, as the young journalist explored the dark side of Indonesia in the late 1990s as "one power was dying; another was fighting to get born."

In the tradition of the best literary journalism, In the Time of Madness reads like a novel, offering both a unique perspective on Indonesia's reformasi revolution of 1998 and an uncomfortably honest portrayal of a journalist at work. Parry writes in a voice at times reminiscent of Joseph Conrad, who also probed the archipelago's heart of darkness. At first, like most young reporters, Parry believed he wore an emotional armor that insulated him from the horror as civilization's rules began to fray: "I encountered death, but remained untouched." Headhunters eating human flesh in Borneo; mob justice in the capital; the Timor revolt. But like so many foreign correspondents before him, Parry eventually "discovered that such experience is never externalized, only absorbed, and that it builds up inside one, like a toxin."

While most journalistic accounts of the end of...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Pintak, Lawrence. "Shadow plays: a dark time in Indonesia, seen through two complementary prisms." Columbia Journalism Review, vol. 44, no. 5, Jan.-Feb. 2006, pp. 56+. Accessed 7 Dec. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A141576291