Revolt in Paradise

“This is the story of a white woman who lived for fifteen years in Indonesia – living, not visiting – knowing the country and its people, from the highest and the lowest, and sharing their joys and their sorrows.”

Finally…I have spare time to write this review. I wanted to write it since last week but time really against me. I know that not many people read my book review but reading without reviewing feels a bit odd now that I have been continuously doing it since 2 years ago.

Revolt in Paradise is my first non-fiction of this year, I usually read at least 1 non-fiction a year…this memoir is an autobiography by K’tut Tantri or formerly known as Muriel Stuart Walker. This book was banned years ago for reasons I can’t seem to find out. When I bought it, someone asked me where I found it, he was quite surprise because I own the book that is so hard to find here in my country.

Revolt in Paradise has its good side and bad side…well bad probably not the right word, it’s just something feels off with this book.

Somewhere before 1942 (the book didn’t mention the year but as Indonesian I at least know that it is before Japanese Imperialism took Indonesia from the Dutch), Muriel who was a British born American citizen felt an urge to go to Bali after seeing how beautiful the island was in a movie. She landed on Batavia (which is now called as Jakarta) and continued alone by driving a motor through the jungle of Java island. She met a boy named Pito who showed her the way to get through to Bali. When she finally arrived at Bali, she soon found out how the Dutch discriminate the native Indonesian as primitive people that didn’t deserve to be at the same place as the white people.

“We Dutch rule these people by keeping them in their place. What will happen to that, do you think, if once they get the idea that the white people regard them as equals? You – a white woman – accepting the hospitality of a native family …”  

page 42

When I read this discrimination part…I am glad that we are no longer under any colonialism. I hate discrimination of any kind and if I was living at that time, I sure had been the one who will be put in jail by the Dutch as I wouldn’t stand still being looked down by other race.

Muriel stood her ground and continued living with one of the Rajahs of Bali. Muriel was given new name by the Rajah, her name was K’tut Tantri (K’tut means fourth born in Balinese), and she was sort of adopted as the fourth born of the Rajah family. She soon learned Balinese and Malayan (the basic of Indonesian language). The Rajah has a kind-hearted son, Agung Nura, who had better judgment on the Dutch as he was once studied abroad and had better vision compare to others. I like how he told K’tut to not hate all Dutchmen because what needed to be hated was the colonial system not the whole Dutch people.

She built a hotel near Kuta beach and soon became famous to countries outside Indonesia….but her happiness was not for long. The Japanese joined World War II and came to Indonesia. As a white woman, she had to run away from Indonesia to avoid being captured by Japanese army. The Rajah asked her to marry Agung Nura to make her as a true Bali Woman, but she refused to do such thing. She managed to escape from Bali and went to Java. She was able to socialized with the Japanese for a while but her luck ran out and the Kempetai (Japanese spy) put her in jail and tortured her so that she would admit that she was an American Spy. This part of torturing made me a bit bored with the book. I’ll tell you why later.

She was freed by the Indonesian when Japan lost the war. She was there when Indonesia proclaimed her independence.

Those who witnessed this historic event heard President Sukarno in his deep, emotion-charged voice, declare simply, “With the blessing of almighty Allah, the Indonesian people declare their independence.” And the people wept, for the days of subjugation were over. Citizens of Indonesia would go forth with pride, no longer slave of any man.

Page 181

That paragraph had successfully raised my pride knowing that we were freed from that day on till years to come and hope no country ever set their foot upon my land ever again.

Indonesian independence was seen as Japanese puppet government by the Dutch. The Dutch influenced the British to help them got back to Indonesia and abolished the puppet government. What Dutch didn’t know was that the government was supported by 70million people of Indonesia, it was not a puppet government at all.

K’tut was drawn to this revolution war against the coming back of the Dutch. She remembered the heroic attempt of Prince Diponegoro , 100 years ago, in trying to free Indonesia from the Dutch and that memory made her strong in helping Indonesia to gain her full freedom.

His noble spirit has been the inspiration of other brave men who have tried, again and again, to free Indonesia from its Dutch masters, only to suffer imprisonment, death, or exile to the dreaded Tanah Merah. But a century had gone by since Diponegoro. The situation had changed, and Merdeka (Merdeka means freedom) was no longer impossible of attainment. It would not be easy, but with seventy million Indonesians on the march toward independence they could not lose. This time, Allah was on their side.

She helped Indonesia by becoming voicing Indonesia’s freedom through Radio. She was then known as Surabaya Sue throughout the world. She continued to help in many outstanding ways to help Indonesia.

The way K’tut describe the history of Indonesia was marvelous, she really knew how to tell a story. I have never read Indonesia history as fun as I read her writing. She shared our history in a way that can make any Indonesian proud of our revolution. However, the way she wrote about herself was too over the top…here is the part where I feel the book a bit off.

As I have said before, Revolt in Paradise is a memoir self-written by K’tut Tantri. It made me wonder how much truth can someone write about herself?

All the things she did for herself and Indonesia were too high rated. Her hotel became well-known, she didn’t bulge when the Japanese tortured her while other prisoners turned crazy, she knew so many famous people that involved in our revolution war and she was a dare-devil woman who would do anything to help anyone. Maybe what she said about her was right….but maybe not!! I couldn’t 100% trust everything I read about her involvement. When I read On Writing by Stephen King, SK didn’t write in a way that describes him as a great writer and for that I appreciate him a great deal. But in Revolt in Paradise, I felt like reading an amazing heroine told by the heroine itself….it was just too much.

She wasn’t mentioned in any of Indonesian history school-book, but I wouldn’t trust text book 100% either. I think some parts of her involvement were right but she spiced them up so well that she looked like a brave woman in and out.

I thought I was wrong for thinking like this, but when I searched through the net…I was amazed that I wasn’t the only one thinking like that. You can read these 2 articles Her obituary in and what The Bali Times thought about her.

The picture on the right showed her meeting President Sukarno.she said she never wore any clothes but Kebaya and Sarong while in Indonesia, so how come she didn’t dress in Kebaya in this picture?

Overall, this book is a good book to know about Indonesian History (you can read a bit of Our Independence in here)…I still gladly give this book 3 stars out of 5.

Book Details

Title  : Revolt in Paradise
Author  : K’tut Tantri
Language  : English
Page  : 334
Publisher  : PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama
Rating  :
Challenge : New Author 2011

20 thoughts on “Revolt in Paradise

  1. She doesn’t sound like a very humble person but then again many who decide to write their memoir probably do think highly of themselves or they wouldn’t do it. That’s why memoirs can be difficult.
    I did study memoir writing at uni for a while. It is very interesting to see what people choose to tell about their lives and what they leave out. Sometimes when they die one finds a diary and in the diary the people are much more truthful and so you see that they were cheating in the memoir.
    Maybe it is natural to want to sound better than one is. Stephen King doesn’t need to do it. Of course, he could be full of himself as well but he isn’t.
    I was wondering why she said she didn’t mind being tortured so much. I wonder whether one feels shame about it? Is it a means to hide shame? It is very humiliating to be tortured, I guess. I don’t know.
    It still sounds like an interesting memoir and she seesm to genuinely like Indonesia.
    Colonialism is awful. And aftermath of it. I think we can still feel it in many countries long after it is over.

    1. I guess you’re right…memoir can be a bit tricky, of course no one wants to look bad in their memoir…I supposed. But I hope she tone it down a little.

      I think I choose my words wrongly, not that she didn’t mind much being tortured, she did mind but the unbearable torture the Japanese gave her never didn’t make her crazy or hate Japan…not many people are like that, most people under her kind of torture would do anything to stop, in my opinion, unless you are trained to be strong like army or something. Maybe she did endure the torturing and still kept her sanity like she wrote…but I find it hard tto believe.

      As for whether she really liked Indonesia or not, I believe she really loved my country…at least she didn’t run away when the Japanese came and then replaced again by the Dutch.

      So true…thank God we don’t feel much of the aftermath now…tho I wish the people in the government could at least once think about the time we were still being slaved and the bravery of our heroes…so that they can stop corrupting this country’s money. We are on the top list of most corrupted country in case you don’t know 😦

      1. I didn’t know about the money but it doesn’t surprise me. It’s the same all over the wordl in the ex-colonies. It’s a very sad phenomenon and one I can’t explain. At leats not in detail. It also depends on which country was colonizing.

  2. yep, a look of a Western person on some more “exotic” cultures can be really snobbish and pompous sometimes 😦 I read many books of English writers about Eastern countries and they often bring an ignorant and sometimes offensive view on other nations 😦

    As Carlone above says colonialism is the most awful thing and the sad part is that we still have it – look at Americans invading countries rich with oil all around the world and making colonies out of them 😦

    1. Well I don’t think K’tut looked down upon us, she spoke highly of our people. It was the Dutch at the colonial era that tried to separate the natives and the whites. K’tut was in love with our people andour culture, so she said in her book.

      Ah yes…you’re right Dezz…different kind of colonialism is still going on around us. It is so full of cover up so that people wouldn’t think of it as a way to colonialize those oil-rich countries

    2. But it’s not just invasions, the roots of old colonialism are most present in inequality of trade: resources, food and even labour just flow out of the poorest (and most resource-rich) countries and into the wealthy ‘ex’-empires for relatively nothing in exchange, using political interference, conditional IMF loans and, sometimes, military force to maintain the ‘optimal investment climate’, which basically means keeping the country poor and politically unstable so that resources can be extracted cheaply whilst those being f*cked over are so desperate that they’re just happy for the business.

      In short: “We’re going to steal from your land and keep stealing until your land and people are useless to us. Of course we won’t do it directly, but by the free market, through the proper corporate channels, that we can’t be held accountable for and officially we have no influence over or vice versa. But don’t worry, we know you’re in charge of the place, so have a few million dollars in aid every year, do what we say and we won’t ask where the money ends up. By the by, do you think it would be okay if we sent some people over for you to torture?”

      Btw I agree about most of the English Writers, but it’s very difficult for a born westerner to talk about any far away culture without sounding that way, because it’s not THEIR culture, they only spend a bit of time there and describe what they see as best they can, a tourist’s perspective. Which is why it’s probably best left to dual citizens or people whose culture it is to write about it for the English speaking world

  3. It’s hard sometimes for a person to write objectively about themselves, but as long as you read such a story with an understanding of that, it’s possible to see much of the truth beneath it all. She lived through some turmoil and bad times… that tends to mark a person in ways that someone who wasn’t there can’t always feel.

    What I don’t understand is why her book was banned? It sounds as if it is sympathetic to both Indonesia and it’s people…. hardly something that would seem to be controversial. I would be interested in knowing what prompted that.

    1. I can see a lot of truth in history part…I like it a lot. I know that objectivity is quite difficult to attain in self-written book, that’s why I still give the book 3 stars which means I like it despite of my doubt on her heroic act.

      I am also wondering the same thing!!! But I couldn’t find out why…maybe I haven’t searched as hard as I should be, I will try to find it out once I have more free time to venture the net.

  4. It’s wonderful that you’re able so sift through the untruths and pick out the good things in the book. A lot of people are unable to look past the surface of things. Great review Nov 😀

  5. This review really got my interest. Then I read the two links which gave me mixed feelings. The Bali link made her look so bad I started to think this book is one I would never read because she is a crazy person. a few ideas flew in my head about it though, if people go out of their way like that to shoot down someone, It makes me believe the victim a little bit more then the attacker. Many women got swept under the rug back in those days as far as not getting credit or respect. If she was trying to be respectable she would have hid the second marrige. 1) because its not considered proper, and 2) becaus the church would have not allowed it.
    also many women of history who do great things don’t get the credit for their deeds instead a blue blood/ royal person/ or male would take the credit. For example Florence Nightengail gets credit for starting up nursing. (but she didnt start it) She was a rich girl who followed in the footsteps and copied another woman who was not rich or famous. I can’t remember the other womans name.
    Because indipendance is so important, maybe the Indonesians of that time did not want to have a champion who is Foreign instead of native. She must have touched many lives in some way. It sounds dangerous to broadcast during war time as she did.

    Those are the ideas I have, but who can know? This is an excellent review! Novroz, would you still read this book, if you had found out about her lies before reading it?

    1. Yeah That Bali Times article is a too cruel…I don’t see her as THAT bad, I just don’t believe ALL her heroine act…but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe them all. I think some of them were true but she spiced them up here and there. I believe she did help Indonesia to gain independence but how much was it is something we can never really find out.

      I think I will still read the book knowing it’s not going to 100% real, she did have a great way in delivering the fact of history. Everything she wrote about the war are in elementary school.

      About the royal blood thing…I agree. There was this woman named Raden Ajeng Kartini who happened to be the revolutionary woman who dared to study and open the eyes of people. But the fact is she came from a royal blood and got all the attention. I bet there was many other women at that time who also wanted to study but they could never did it because the Dutch only let royal blood and rich merchant to study.

  6. Happy warrior’s day.
    Thanks for the review. Do you by any chance have the ebook version of this book?
    I’ve been looking around for sometimes now. Thanks


      1. I see, thanks for informing.
        Currently, I am not at a place liable to buy from Gramedia. There is gramedia bookstore here, but very far, and I’m not sure it will cost the same as in Indonesian bookstore.
        Anyway, thanks.

  7. Hello Novroz, I’m living in Bali and read K’tut’s book just yesterday, over Nyepi. It felt like the right book to read while spending the day in silence – and partial fasting. While I agree with you that she may have overstated her own impact on the rajah’s family, the Indonesian people and the success of Merdeka, what left the biggest impression on me was her courage and spirit, her willingness to take risks and to pursue an unconventional life that suited her best. Thnx for the review.

    1. Hi Amit 🙂
      I totally agree with you, her courage and spirit are the best side of the book along with her fine description of the situation at that time.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

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