The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Year of Living Dangerously, by C.J. Koch

It seems that most often, people read a book before the movie comes out. In this case, I didn’t even know there was a book until after The Year of Living Dangerously came out as a movie back in the 1980s. But it was clear that some of the most touching and intriguing scenes — specifically, those involving Billy Kwan — would have more depth in the book. I loved the book then, and I loved it again recently when I reread it.

Billy Kwan is a half-Chinese Australian dwarf working as a TV cameraman in Indonesia during the last months of the Sukarno regime, in 1965 I believe. The narrator, a half-character of whom we learn very little beyond his profession (journalist) and last name (Cook), tells of the arrival of Guy Hamilton, a tall, handsome young Australian newsman and the ostensible main character, at least in the movie. Kwan immediately allies himself with Hamilton, passing along strangely-acquired and much-needed connections to insiders so that Hamilton can report stories the other journalists can only envy. Kwan also passes along his “girlfriend,” Jillie. (In the movie, Jillie is played by the very tall Sigourney Weaver; in the book, she is close to Kwan’s height.) As the political crisis becomes increasingly complex, Cook reveals more about Kwan and the strange poetry of his inner life, gleaned from files that Kwan keeps and Cook acquires.

Why do I love this book so? It’s moving, full of insight about love and poverty and conflict and loneliness. It’s also one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered. I hadn’t heard of Koch before, although he’s evidently written several books as both C. J. and Christopher J. Koch. (I read one of them, about another journalist, this time in Cambodia, but it lacked the depth and poignancy of Year of Living Dangerously.) In addition, Koch tells a riveting story, with excellent pacing, somehow managing to convey the complex political situation of mid-1960s Indonesia without getting bogged down in minutiae.

As for animals, there is only one, a bird named Beo that Billy Kwan keeps. I can’t tell what happens to Beo without spoiling a bit of the story, but he doesn’t get hurt and might end the book better than he begins it. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers. And it’s recommended for everyone.


October 3, 2008 - Posted by | animals, birds, Book Reviews, literature | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Sounds like a good book, I haven’t seen the movie either. I think I’ll put this one on my TBR list. Thanks!

    Comment by Rusty | October 4, 2008 | Reply

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