In August of 2012, Indonesian author Andrea Hirata was a guest at the annual Byron Bay Writer’s Festival. Whilst in the local area, Andrea and friend Imelda made a quiet visit to the Broadbeach Branch Library. They toured the facility in awe of the stock, the automated technology, and the services that are on offer to library customers. Andrea marveled that the library is so vastly advanced and contrasting to Indonesian libraries. In his home country, libraries are not recognised as vital and valuable community spaces as they are here in Australia. Here libraries are integral community hubs built specifically to encourage information retrieval, learning, reading, socialising and strengthening community connections. Andrea wandered the aisles and took a moment to pause and consider which of the many shelves at the Broadbeach Branch Library may house his novel The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi) which was not yet released in Australia at the time of his visit. His visit to the Broadbeach Branch Library was reported in the Indonesian newspaper The Jakarta Post and the article can be read here.
The Rainbow Troops (Laskar Pelangi) is somewhat of a “paper chameleon”. It may well be destined to reside on the adult or young-adult fiction shelves but it could be equally at home on the adult non-fiction autobiography shelves. The Rainbow Troops is the first book in a quartet of novels that is inspired by Hirata’s life. The book was released in Australia by Random House in January 2013. Laskar Pelangi was first published in Indonesia in 2005 where it has sold more than five million copies, achieving astounding success and smashing Indonesian sales records. In 2008 it was adapted to film. The movie has received awards and featured in International film festivals in Indonesia, Iran, Hong Kong, Berlin and Germany. The book has been published into many languages and is continuing to have remarkable success. A sincere compliment to the humble author.
The story of The Rainbow Troops unravels on the island of Belitong. Imagine an island in the equatorial tropics situated at the point where the South China Seas and the Java Sea shake hands and entwine fingers. Belitong Island sits on a geographical “gold mine”. It harbours valuable tin and other coveted commodities. Laskar (literally = warriors) Pelangi translates to Rainbow Troops. A title that the author’s primary school teacher gave to him and his classmates as they were in the habit of climbing the local Filicium trees, perching in branches scanning the skies for rainbows.
Belitong Island is home to two vastly different communities. The privileged elite who thrive and grow richer from the island’s valuable assets and the poor villagers, labourers and coolies who exist in the jungle of chronic poverty. A scant few of the humble villagers can dream of attaining an education but luckily a few do dream and succeed. The author was one of those who dared and triumphed. This book tells of his boyhood days, his childhood friendships, his humble inspiring determined teachers, his nine classmates, the modest school and the enormous ambition to achieve an Indonesian’s constitutional right (Article 33) “Every citizen has the right to an education”.
The Rainbow Troops is a touching tale. Innocent and heart-warming and it gives inspiration to those who dare to dream.
Author Andrea Hirata is back in Australia at present attending Adelaide Writers’ Week part of the 2013 Adelaide Festival where no doubt he and his novel The Rainbow Troops will be welcomed with open arms.