Published by Fremantle Press on August 1st 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Contemporary Women, Fiction
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Indonesia, November, 2004: after the Bali and Denpasar bombings; just before the Boxing Day tsunami. Penny has escaped the confines of life in Perth and gone to East Java to reconnect with the Indo of her teenage years: to drift and drink and party. She’s flirting and surfing with the wild man Matt and she’s also taken a job at Shane’s Sumatran Oasis. The Aussie expat has a reputation as a troublemaker, and locals and bule (foreigners) alike are keen to get rid of him. Penny is pulled into a sinister world where xenophobia is on the rise and where two very different cultures will collide. A novel about how Australians see their relationship to Indonesia at a time when fundamentalism and terrorism is on the rise.
After reading Troppo I can understand why it won prestigious TAG Hungerford Literary Award. This is a book which manages to capture the feeling of a country and its people whilst delivering also an enthralling story.
It begins with Penny taking a job in Sumatra, Indonesia to get away from her life in Perth. Having spent a few years in the country when she was younger, Penny comes to realise that the Indo she remembers isn’t the same as the one she lives in now. Before she even starts work she hears dark rumours of her new boss – a man who is treated with caution by Indonesians and Australians alike. Caught between a potentially dangerous situation in Indonesia and returning home to a life she doesn’t want in Perth, Penny has to navigate the cultural differences between tourists and locals.
This is a book which makes you feel you are in the destination along with the characters. Reading Troppo, I could imagine being there with Penny as she experienced the Indonesian way of life. Dickie captures the vibe of the country perfectly and contrasts it well with Penny’s Australian life. Penny was a great character to follow as she had a grip on the language and parts of the culture and was more than just a wave-chasing backpacker. She was sympathetic to the problems of the residents whilst she could also see the views of foreign ex-pats who appreciated all Indonesia had to offer.
There is a dark undertone to this story – one which goes deeper than just the tourist hot spot in Indonesia which many people may be familiar with. I’ve not been to Sumatra or most of the places mentioned in the book but I felt like I could understand the feelings from all parties within the novel. The locals have their beliefs which at times clash with that of foreigners. The dislike and distrust of resort owner Shane is palpable from the very first page and continues to follow Penny around as she gets to know the town she will call home for the next six months. I loved the mystery which revolved around Shane as well as getting to know the character once Penny began work. The characters in Troppo were vivid and believable. I did feel like I could imagine each of them and liked that they all had their own agendas even if they weren’t overly apparent.
The setting is very important to the story. The Indonesian culture with its food, natural beauty and even its black magic beliefs play their parts in showing readers Penny’s true Indonesia. I loved how unbiased it felt. We saw the highs and lows of being a foreigner in those parts without either side being focused on. Rather this was how Penny experienced the place and wanted to show others without prejudice.
Troppo is a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys compelling stories and different cultures.
Many thanks to Fremantle Press for the review copy.