'Alexandra Wheatfield, a young journalist, has come to work in the Australian Embassy in Djakarta at a time of chaotic change: the coup of 1965 has been crushed, but the Indonesian Army has not yet overthrown the revered President Sukarno. She is moved by the raw colour and sullen violence of life in the city, and it mirrors her affair with Maruli Hutabarat, poet and party activist. But she is faced with the conflicting demands of two societies---her own and that of her lover---and she is finally betrayed by both.'
'Witty, wise and earthy...a promising debut novel.' Sydney Morning Herald.
'Blanche d'Alpuget's novel reveals more about the cultural, social, political and sexual tension of Australians working---or filling in diplomatic time---in Indonesia than a thousand guarded press releases.' Financial Review.
This, perhaps my least known novel, is my favourite because it was my first, and opened me to the joy of writing fiction. I had lived in Indonesia for four years, the first two during a very scary time when Jakarta was under martial law. You could be shot for being out on the streets after 10 pm or before 5 am. The obvious solution was all-night parties. In 1965 there had been an abortive communist coup. Most foreigners fled when the killing started, but the small foreign community that stayed on were adventurous, mostly young and mostly had a whale of a time. My husband was a fluent Indonesian-speaker, working for a post-graduate degree in linguistics. Because of his knowledge of the language we quickly gathered many Indonesian friends, lots of them students who had led the protest movement that in turn led to the coup that saw the overthrow of Preident Sukarno and the gradual ascension to the Presidency by Suharto. One tragic occurrence was the arrest of a close friend, a left-winger. He was held in gaol without charge for 11 years. It was his plight, and especially my sense of frustration that I could do nothing to ease the hardship of his incarceration, that led me to write about this period of Indonesian history. The friend was just a friend---he was 40 and I was 22, so he seemed immensely old---but in the novel I fictionialised the relaionship to a love affair---not that one cannot be as distressed by injustice to a friend as to a lover. Like the heroine of the book I worked in the Australian embassy. In those days it was housed in a lovely old Dutch mansion. There was a bullet hole in one of the windows of my office. Outside was a tropical garden of palm, banana and frangipani trees, their lush green set off by vermillion bouganvillia vines. It could have been the garden of Eden. Its surrounding wall was topped with broken glass.
The photograph here is of the first edition, published in hard cover by Aurora Press, owned by Chatto, Bodley Head & Jonathan Cape. I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten the name of my publisher, a tall, slim Englishman with gentle manners. He did me a very good turn in urging me to find a literary agent. I did. Rose Creswell was my agent for years and immediately took me away from Aurora, to Penguin.