Elizabeth Pisani

A TED talk about forgetting 1965, just when we need to remember it

Two years ago, I gave this short TED Talk about imaginary husbands, telling lies, and the mass killings that slashed across Indonesia in 1965. I know many people will hate it, and will disagree most violently when I say that the long silence that followed the killings was probably a good thing. But we mustn’t forget for ever. I post the unedited version of the 5 minute talk now, to remind us all what can happen in Indonesia (what HAS…


Ignoring Indonesia: What you can’t say in The Guardian (Updated)

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of white-robed protesters stomped through the streets of Jakarta, baying for the blood of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, aka Ahok. To simplify a complex story, Ahok stood accused of the sin of quoting the Quran while being Christian. In the best Indonesian tradition of rent-a-crowd politics, many of the “protesters” were there for the promise of money and a packed lunch; one told TV reporters that, though he came for the cash, he…


Too much testosterone: can women save Indonesia?

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has appointed an all-female panel to select the next anti-corruption commissioners. While some think this is a sign that women are gaining political power in Indonesia. I argue that the panel will probably do a good job precisely because women are generally marginalised, and therefore less likely to be woven into networks of patronage and corruption.


Indonesia’s alcohol ban makes me thirsty. Come drink in Brussels, LA, London

Starting last week, Indonesia banned the sale of beer in convenience stores. (It’s the first time since the tsunami that I remember “Muslim-majority Indonesia” making it into the Daily Mail.) Worse still, parliament is proposing to jail people for up to two years for drinking alcohol. Despite ministerial assurances that this is unlikely to happen, it makes me thirsty. If you’d like to come and raise a glass with me, there will be a few opportunities to do so over…


Best Books 2014 lists underline Indonesia (Etc.)’s diversity

Forgive this brief post from the Department of Self Promotion, but I can’t help being a little pleased that The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the lovely Longitude books have picked Indonesia Etc. as one of the best books of 2014. I’m thrilled, too, that I’ll get to talk about Indonesia at the glorious Asia Society in New York on Monday December 15 (if you’re in town, please come along). What’s especially fun about the “Best ofs” is that…


Indonesia Etc. enhanced eBook is out now!

Indonesia is one of the most visually compelling countries in the world: blue flames leap out of the side of sulphurous volcanoes, scarlet blood splatters into the dust between megalithic tombstones, the silvery eye of a giant tuna fish reflects the shining sea. In Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation, I have tried to capture this kaleidoscope land in black ink on white paper. But technology now provides us with a new world, a world where a writer’s words can…


Things to do before you turn 50

What to do on the beautiful summer afternoon before your 50th birthday? Learn something new, obviously. I chose trapeze flying. I could draw comparisons between this exhilarating leap into nothingness and Indonesian politics in its current phase of and heady uncertainty, but I think I’ll just let it swing.


Department of Self-Promotion: The Economist loves Indonesia Etc!

Update: So does Simon Winchester (writing in the Wall Street Journal) — “…a spectacular achievement and one of the very best travel books I have read..” Pallavi Aiyar, in The LA Review of Books — “I found myself nearly trembling with excitement…I was finally holding in my hands that elusive Indonesia book: a rollicking good adventure that knits together a complex of stories and insights” Tim Hannigan, in The Asian Review of Books — “A formidably insightful and engaging book…


Test-drive the Indonesia Etc enhanced e-book (for free!)

The big, solid, heavy-in-the-hand, proud-on-the-bookshelf hardback version of Indonesia Etc will be out in less than a month in the UK and Asia, six weeks in the US. But I’ve spent the last few months working on something that I think is at least as exciting: an electronic version of the text, which also has embedded videos, photos, recordings and other things that I think help convey the sights, sounds and oddities of Indonesia. I recorded most of the material…


Welcome to IndonesiaEtc.com, continuing the Portrait Indonesia journey

Welcome to Indonesia etc, the new face of Portrait Indonesia. It’s over two years since Portrait Indonesia went on the road. Portrait went quiet for several months as I hunched down over a computer, trying to pin Indonesia’s riotous diversity to the page. The book that will emerge in June 2014 will be called Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation. It will be published in the UK by Granta, in the US by WW Norton and in Indonesia by Godown,…