Book Review – Smiles in Indonesia

Smiles in Indonesia by O.G. Roeder

I found this in a used bookstore, unsure of what it even was. Turns out to be a collection of short essays, observations on Indonesian life and culture circa the early 1970’s. I can’t find out a whole lot about the author other than he apparently wrote a biography of Indonesia’s second president and long-time leader, General Suharto. There are indications the author may have been a former Nazi official during World War II, but it’s hard to determine the truth of this.

This book is written with a dry, subtle humor. It often pokes fun at Indonesian people and culture, but always very clearly in a way that demonstrates a great love for this people and culture. The author is not of the people, but definitely finds their ways – although sometimes humorous or curious – to ultimately be worthy of observation and appreciation.

The topics range widely, from observations on the consumption of beer, prostitution, the ingenuity of officials serving in challenging situations, and every day life. The essays are short and easy to read. They don’t necessarily have a point, whether an encouragement towards change or a recommendation towards conserving old ways. The author rarely takes upon himself that level of authority, but is more content to bemusedly observe and comment on what he sees without passing excessive judgment.

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