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‘Mataram': Of glory and riches – or death and dishonor

Duncan Graham

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, April 14, 2019  /  11:59 am
‘Mataram': Of glory and riches – or death and dishonor

Love, faith and power: 'Mataram' is set in the 17th-century Java that is in turmoil between its Hindu-Buddhist past and its Muslim future, while pepper draws Europe’s quarrelling spice-hungry traders to its shores. (Courtesy of Monsoon Books/-)

Here’s a chance for foreigners bedazzled by this archipelago of astonishments to better their knowledge of its history and cultures – not through texts hammered by pedestrian academics clumsy at storytelling, but through fiction. Mataram was once a powerful Sultanate based on the lands dominated by Central Java’s Mount Merapi and the cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta before the Dutch took control. Mataram is also a novel by a near octogenarian scholar who let his creativity roam free after a lifetime of formal study marked by footnotes. That cleared the path to introduce Tony Reid’s creation: a ginger-bearded seaman from Hampshire with a sinking marriage. His adventures help us understand the Java of four centuries ago. Thomas Hodges had little to warrant his inclusion as master’s mate in an imagined English trading venture to the East Indies in 16...