Indonesia is a seductive place. Its people are among the most hospitable on the planet; it is rich beyond telling in languages, cultures and landscapes and it heaves with gold, nickel, spices, fish stocks. Indonesia is also a well-spring of patronage, corruption and bureaucratic incompetence; its schools are a shambles, its legal system a disgrace. Elizabeth Pisani—journalist turned scientist turned analyst-of-all-trades—describes Indonesia as a giant Bad Boyfriend, charming and maddening in equal parts. She has been in thrall to the country since first working in Indonesia over two decades ago, and keeps coming back for more.
In 1945, Indonesian nationalists Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed: "We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters relating to the transfer of power etc. will be executed carefully and as soon as possible." Nearly seven decades later, Pisani set out to rediscover Indonesia in the age of its latest "Etc": decentralisation. She spent over a year travelling 21,000 kilometres by motorbike, bus and boat, and covering another 20,000 kilometres by plane. She stayed with fishermen and farmers, bus drivers and nurses, teachers and nomads. Out of a palette that includes a sound knowledge of history, years of close observation and a healthy sense of the absurd, she paints a clear-eyed but ultimately affectionate portrait of the nation.