In the Time of Madness is a book that recalls the violence and chaos that Indonesia experienced during the 1990s. It is an autobiographical account written by British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry.
Split up into three sections, Parry tells stories of head-hunting tribes in Kalimantan; the end of the Suharto presidency; and the transition to independence for Timor-Leste.
Living in Indonesia today – I would describe the place as quiet and laid back – the people are friendly and happy. People are always smiling and are very happy to stop and chat with you. It is hard to get my head around the fact that just fifteen years ago, Indonesia was a very different place.
In the Time of Madness takes you back to the late 1990s and allows you to experience Indonesia at its worst. In the jungles of Kalimantan, Parry describes the conflict between the Dayaks and the Madurese. The Dayaks had a brutal reputation for violence and in the past they had practiced head-hunting and cannibalism. The ongoing transmigration of Madurese people into their homeland reignited this brutal savagery and once again Dayaks sought to collect the heads of their enemies. After seeing a photo of a severed-head, Parry made it his mission to see one with his own eyes. This led him into the jungles of West Kalimantan to meet with the local people, listen to their stories and witness their battles.
Perhaps the cause, or perhaps just an effect – the downfall of President Suharto was a significant factor in the chaos of Indonesia in the late 1990s. After a brief background on Indonesian politics, Parry retells his observations of the student protests in Jogja and Jakarta. He gives us a personal account of the environment at the time and the tension felt by a people who were no longer willing to have a dictator run their country. Most interesting is Parry’s description of Suharto himself: he describes Suharto as an underwhelming and humble man who portrayed himself as an almost reluctant President.
The final section of the book takes us to East Timor where we experience the violent transition to independence. Parry was there for most of it and describes his fear as East Timor is turned into a bloody war zone. This is probably the most exciting (albeit horrific) section of the book and it retells a story that is important to the modern history of Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Australia. Parry’s account is mostly non-political and tells the human side of things. It pushes him to his own emotional limits and ultimately breaks him.
In the Time of Madness is a well written book from the first person perspective. It takes you on a journey into the violent side of Indonesia’s history and allows you to see just how far the country has come in the past decade. Today Indonesia has one of the best performing economies in the world and is seen as the torchbearer of democracy in Southeast Asia.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Indonesia, anyone who remembers the conflict in Timor-Leste in the late 1990s, and anyone with an interest in the history of Southeast Asia.