Thursday, November 18, 2010
Review Thursday: In The Footsteps Of Stamford Raffles
By Nigel Barley
Monsoon Books July 2009
Paperback 312pp + 8pp photos
Price: RM39.90 and S$23.50
This book is absolutely brilliant. I am so jealous, I wish I had written it. It's part travelogue and part history book. The author retraces the steps of Stampford Raffles, a British employee of the East India Company working in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore from 1795 to 1824.
It's a very personal book that moves from present day conversations to diary entries from the past and nuggets of Barley's observations about present and past. The fun of it is that the book isn't just a testament to Raffles but also to Sukarno,the first President of Indonesia after World War II.
What makes it fun is that Raffles has been depicted as a hero, hypocrite, gentleman, slaver, saint and bigot - just as Sukarno has. Barley presents all the accounts and lets the reader decide.
Barley is one of the best travel writers I've read in a long time. He depicts Malaysia and Singapore beautifully in two very short chapters, dwelling for most of the book on his travels in Indonesia.
The moment I read the second chapter I was wafted back there, complete with smells, sights and sounds.
I'd forgotten all about the bedroom of the Sea Goddess, the broken down water palace, the way you have to pay for someone to watch your car when you leave it anywhere.... It was a blast from the past.
If you can find this book, buy it. It's an excellent read. You can download chapter 1 for free here.