Monday, January 09, 2017

East Timor: Resistance, by Naldo Rei

It didn't seem as if I could find any fiction that originated from the relatively new nation of East Timor*. I did, however, manage to locate several memoirs in our local library: The Crossing, by Luis Cardoso, Kirsty Sword Gusmao's book A Woman of Independence, and lastly Naldo Rei's Resistance.

Kirsty Sword, who married the East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao (she met him when he was in prison in Indonesia), is an Australian. And Luis Cardoso's book was already reviewed on line - plus, it seems that he spent quite a lot of time in Portugal - so I chose Naldo Rei. East Timor - the Eastern half of an island to the north of Australia - was a Portuguese territory for 450 years. When the Portuguese left in 1975, the Indonesians invaded the island, under the guise of "developing" it. Naldo Rei's family fled to the jungle, where he lived for the first three years of his life. When he was nine, his father was shot by the Indonesian army along with other village leaders. While still at school, he became active in the resistance movement, acting as a trusted courier. He was captured and tortured by the Indonesians on a number of occasions but managed to survive through to the country's independence in 2002.

The author became a journalist and his journalism training shows in the book which is often journalistic in style rather than literary - a fairly straight forward account. This does not mean it is not emotionally gripping. It becomes quite harrowing towards the end when he recounts the torture methods used by the Indonesians, and the destruction that occurred after the East Timorese voted for independence, before the Indonesians left the country. Earlier on, some parts were a little more hard to follow, and I found myself flipping to the back of the book quite often, where there is an appendix of acronyms and terms used by the Indonesian military and the local resistance movement. I also had a little trouble keeping track of who was who, among Naldo's many relations, and colleagues in the resistance movement.

However, overall it was a very well written account, and although I was vaguely aware of the recent history of East Timor, this book really brought home the challenging path the country followed to gain its independence, and the heroism of many of the local people.

*I did locate one novel "The Redundance of Courage" set on an island that is a fictionalized version of East Timor - however, the author, Timothy Mo, is a Hong Kong born British resident. So it didn't quite qualify, though it sounds well worth reading.

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