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28 Best Books About Indonesia

Don’t miss these books set in Indonesia to spark your wanderlust. Discover fiction and nonfiction books about Indonesia.

Are you headed to one of Indonesia’s 1,750+ islands and looking for books about Indonesia to read before you go?

Back in the day, I lived in Indonesia. I taught English in a public high school in Depok as part of the U.S. Fulbright Program, which I highly recommend for graduating undergrads or those considering graduate school.

Before packing up my life and moving across the world, I start studying Bahasa Indonesia via flashcards and podcasts. I also began reading translated Indonesian novels and watching movies set in Indonesia.

Of course, I also couldn’t resist reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love as well as watching The Year Of Living Dangerously.

While living outside of Jakarta, I discovered more beautiful and poignant novels set in Indonesia, including The Rainbow Troops. I began reading more famous Indonesian authors like Andrea Hirata and Pramoedya Anata Toer.

Today, I crave finding more and more amazing contemporary Indonesian writers, including Eka Kurniawan, Nh. Dini, and Laksmi Pamuntjak.

So, what are some of the best books set in Indonesia to read before you go?

Below, find Indonesian writers, ex-pat and vacationers’ experiences, books set in Bali, and nonfiction books about Indonesia to enhance your next Indonesian vacation. Let’s get started!

Don’t forget to watch these Indonesian movies, too.

Books About Indonesia and Books Set In Indonesia with picture of Borobudur at sunset
Don’t miss our Indonesia reading list filled with yogi, traveler, and Indonesian authors and books set in and about Indonesia.

Famous Books Set In Indonesia

Books About Indonesia like This Earth Of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer book cover with Javanese sketched face and colorful landscape

This Earth Of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer is one of the most famous Javanese authors. His writing focuses on post-independent Indonesia from Dutch colonial rule.

This Earth Of Mankind is the first in Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet. He wrote–well, narrated–the Indonesian novel while imprisoned as a political dissident on the island of Buru.

This Earth Of Mankind follows the story of Minke and his love for Annelies, a descendant of Javanese royalty, as he navigates life and marriage under colonialism.

In the 1980s, the Attorney General of Indonesia banned the novel for promoting Communism. Amazon | Goodreads

More Books About Indonesia By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Child Of All Nations (Book 2)
Footsteps (Book 3)
House Of Glass (Book 4)
The Girl From The Coast


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The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata book cover with yellow writing and shadows of children jumping in implied water

The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata

While living in Indonesia one of my friends, Angie Kilbane, had recently translated The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata.

Of course, I had to pick up a copy of this autobiographical story about the boys deemed the ‘Rainbow Troops.”

An inspiring Indonesian novel set on Belitong Island, watch as these impoverished students and their teacher, Lintang, fight for their educations and futures.

The Rainbow Troops evokes the ambiance and daily life in Indonesia in both its struggles, including corruption, and beauty. Watch as the narrator, Ikal, comes of age. Amazon | Goodreads

More From Indonesian Author, Andrea Hirata:

One of my former Indonesian students also recommends Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer) by Andrea Hirata.

Save These Books Set In Indonesia For Later:


Books About Indonesia Reading List Pinterest Pin with book covers for Man Tiger, Paper Boats, This Earth of Mankind, The Birdwoman's Palate
Heading to Indonesia? Save this Books Set In Indonesia reading list for later on Pinterest.

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan red book cover with claw-like slashes

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan

One of the more contemporary Indonesian novels set on the coast, Man Tiger incorporates magical realism with storytelling and mystery.

Within Margio lies a white tiger. Beginning with a murder in a Javanese village, readers watch as he hits his breaking point with the tensions happening around him in society.

Some have deemed Eka Kurniawan the next Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Man Tiger is definitely on my to-read list based on friends’ recommendations. Man Tiger also made the Man Booker International longlist in 2016. Amazon | Goodreads

More Books By Indonesian Author, Eka Kurniawan

Beauty Is A Wound
Kitchen Curse
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Read even more island-based books.

The Year Of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch book cover with volcano eruption and red lava

The Year Of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch

Also a movie, The Year Of Living Dangerously is a book set in Jakarta, Indonesia in the 1960s. The Communist Party of Indonesia is on the verge of staging a coup. Koch provides a highly fictionalized account of these events.

Surrounded by chaos and violence, Guy Hamilton–and Australian journalist–and Billy Kwan–a Chinese-Australian photojournalist–fall for a British diplomat.

Among rising political tension, find themes of loyalty, identity, and disillusionment. Amazon | Goodreads

More Notable Books Set In Indonesia

Saman by Aya Utami
Before Dawn by Sapardi Djoko Damono (Indonesian poetry)


Looking for more books set across Asia? Don’t miss these Books Set In India To Take You There.


Books About Indonesia I Can’t Wait To Read

Departures by Nh. Dini book cover with watercolor like sketch of woman in yellow dress sitting next to a woman looking out

Departures by Nh. Dini

One of my former students also recently recommended Indonesian novelist, Nh. Dini. I had been eyeing Dini’s Departures that published in 2014.

Elisa is a flight attendant for Indonesian Airlines. Like many after Indonesia’s independence, Elisa is struggling to find her identity. While searching for her birth father, she is also hoping to find happiness and belonging in her marriage. Amazon | Goodreads

Indonesian authors, including The Birdwoman's Palate by Laksmi Pamuntjak book cover with petals surrounding a bowl of noodles

The Birdwoman’s Palate by Laksmi Pamuntjak

A more contemporary novel set in Indonesia, The Birdwoman’s Palate promises a culinary tour around the country. Head to Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, and Palembang–all cities that I’ve visited while living there.

Aruna is an epidemiologist researching sporadic bird flu cases around Indonesia. As she travels across the islands with her friends, she begins to learn more about Indonesia and herself. Amazon | Goodreads

Paper Boats by Dee Lestari book cover with paper boats on a paper sea

Paper Boats by Dee Lestari

Kugy loves to write and float paper boats filled with her letters out to sea. At the University of Bandung, Kugy is reunited with her friend Noni and also introduced to Keenan.

Because she has a boyfriend, Kugy denies her feelings for Keenan. Eventually, Kugy moves on both graduating and finding a more ‘practical’ job than writing.

Years later, Kugy and Keenan see each other again at Noni’s wedding, forcing them to reconcile their feelings, relationships, and the past. Amazon | Goodreads

More TBR Indonesian Novels

I’ve also been eyeing The Original Dream by Nukila Amal, but I’ve read such mixed reviews. I don’t always love magical realism. Goodreads

Books Set In Bali, Indonesia

Nonfiction books set in Indonesia including, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover with writing spelled out in pasta, prayer beads and flowers

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you are looking for a famous book set in Bali, you have probably already heard of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert heads to India, Indonesia, and Italy in search of finding herself and overcoming an awful divorce.

I can see your eye rolls at this book suggestion. Fair enough, but confession: I do love the premise for Eat, Pray, Love.

Although a bit clichéd, I have no shame in admitting that I appreciated and related to Gilbert’s journey of self-love and reflection. I didn’t enjoy the movie version as much.

On a more personal note, a bunch of the female Fulbrighters and I read Eat, Pray, Love before heading to Indonesia. When we all met up in Ubud, Bali for birthday celebrations, we went to see the Wayan. (‘Wayan’ is a Balinese name signifying ‘eldest.’)

A magical experience, we were totally fangirling. Plus, we had some ominous health and fortunes told…

Eat, Pray, Love is a nonfiction memoir that is perfect if you are looking for inspiration abroad or wanting to find love, friendship, and family amongst the rice paddies in Bali. Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information→

Books about Bali, including A House In Bali by Colin McPhee book cover with an open doorway

A House In Bali by Colin McPhee

The musical and theatrical performances in Bali and across Indonesia are captivating, educational, and magical. If you are looking specifically for musical books about Indonesia, try A House In Bali.

Canadian-born composer, Colin McPhee, heads to Bali, Indonesia after listening to and being inspired by Balinese gamelan music.

McPhee visits the Indonesian island in the 1930s. His 1947 novel is a unique look at Balinese arts, culture, and life from a Western musician perspective. Amazon | Goodreads

More Books Set In Bali:

Love And Death In Bali by Vicki Baum
Balicious by Beck Wicks
Bali Daze by Cat Wheeler
A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (Book 2) by Shamini Flint

Nonfiction Books About Indonesia

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester book cover with black and white picture of the volcano

Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

If you are looking for nonfiction books about Indonesia, try Krakatoa. When living in Indonesia, my friends and I decided to head to Cilegon and Carita Beach.

With choppy weather and waters, we did not take a boat over to Anak Krakatoa, which formed from the original explosion of Krakatoa. However, you could see this volcanic formation from the land.

In 1883, Krakatoa infamously and devastatingly erupted causing a deadly tsunami that took the lives of over 40,000 people. Waves crashed as far as France.

Much of the world heard the explosion and catastrophic dust caused changes in the temperature.

In Krakatoa, Winchester recaptures the eruption from a historical and geological standpoint. Amazon | Goodreads

Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison book cover with shadow of a woman doing upward facing dog with a cigarette in her mouth

Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison

Although not one of my favorite books set in Indonesia, if you are looking for a more attitude-y and cynical version of Eat, Pray, Love, don’t skip Yoga Bitch. I had higher comedic expectations for this one, although I did find myself chuckling.

Twenty-five-year-old Suzanne Morrison heads to a yoga retreat in Bali. She’s hoping to overcome her fears and go through the meditative process of self-discovery.

Of course, some yogic practices are different than others. Morrison is less than enthused to drink a daily glass of her own pee.

Yoga Bitch is for those looking more for a less-serious yoga book set in Bali. Amazon | Goodreads

More Nonfiction Books About Indonesia

Indonesia, Etc by Elizabeth Pisani
In The Time Of Madness by Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesian Literary Festivals & Festivals

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival
Jakarta International Literary Festival

Indonesian novels authors and books set in Indonesia Pinterest pin with book covers for Krakatoa, Paper Boats, Eat Pray Love, Man Tiger, The Rainbow Troops, The Birdwoman's Palate, The Year of Living Dangerously, A House In Bali, Departures, and This Earth of Mankind
Did you find new Indonesian books to inspire your travels? Save these books to read before going to Indonesia for later on Pinterest.

What Other Books About Or Set In Indonesia Have You Read?

What are some of your favorite Indonesian novels? Are there more books about Indonesia that you recommend for our reading list? Have you been to Indonesia? What are your favorite places? Please let us know in the comments.

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Hayley Yager

Wednesday 1st of July 2020

Great list! I'm yet to read any of these but I did just read a book (The Last Paradise by Di Morrissey) where the main character takes a job in Bali. I didn't love the book (a little too family saga for me with not enough drama) but the descriptions of the Balinese landscape and cultures were spot on. Within the book were extracts of another book called Revolt in Paradise by K'tut Tantri and that was really interesting. I'd like to read that one day. It's about an American woman who journeyed to Indonesia in the 1930s and helped in the struggle for freedom. Sounds insightful!

Christine

Friday 3rd of July 2020

I would love to read a few more Indonesian books by the newer authors. Sometimes it is so hard to get them here in the U.S. When we visited back in February a few years ago, I wasn't really doing books to inspire travel soooo I missed out on stocking up while I was there.

I'm thinking of doing a separate Bali book list so I'll have to check out the books you mention. Thanks so much!

Lauren Elena

Saturday 20th of June 2020

What a cool list! Quite a variety. Thanks for expanding my knowledge on books set in Indonesia. I’d love to travel there one day!

Of course I would like the sound of Paper Boats. I’m such a sucker for romance. That one sounds so good! I like the sound of A House in Bali too. I think learning about a culture’s music is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and also bond with the people there. I can’t think of any trip of mine that didn’t involve music. Love! Although a bunch of my trips have been with my parents who only take trips with full guided tours. Sooo I wonder how much of my trips were geared towards - let’s give these tourists what they expect out of us. I can’t wait to really explore this world! Anyway, I also looooved Eat, Pray, Love. No hate from me there. Ha! The movie fell completely flat but I loved the book. And I totally want to read Yoga Bitch! Sounds like my kind of book. I’m the person who keeps meaning to add yoga into my life. I always love it when I do it. I need to do it regularly! Maybe right now? But oh my apartment is hot. Excuses!?

Why do I always digress while leaving you comments? Awesome book list! I love the diversity. I’d love to learn more about your time there one day.?

Christine

Sunday 21st of June 2020

Hey Lauren,

I loved living in Indonesia, and I totally hope that you get to visit one day. Take me!! I want to go back!! Maybe when we can travel again, we can rally Kathy too, lol! Drinks by the beach! You can go on literary dates, I'll pick up more local lit, and Kathy can blog about all the delicious food.

I'm glad that you are pro Eat, Pray, Love too. Gilbert fans, UNITE!!! My best friend loves her too. And, I'm so glad (and sad) that I wasn't the only one who didn't love the movie. Like what happened?! I like Julia Roberts, too. GAH!

OMG, I enjoy YOGA soooo much. You can always try Yoga with Adriene on youtube and start with her 15-20 mins videos. A little goes a long way (so cliche but true), which is fabulous for us busy people!

Thanks for the awesome comment. I hope you are having a wonderful weekend! XXxx

Sarah

Wednesday 10th of June 2020

I don't think I have read a single book set in Indonesia so I clearly need to take the time to read some of these. I had no idea that Eat, Pray, Love was set in Indonesia but it is the only book on the list whose title I recognize. I'm so glad you make these lists because it allows me to discover books I didn't know were out there.

Christine

Thursday 11th of June 2020

I read many more Indonesian novels when I was moving and living there, for sure. I definitely need to pick up some of the newer Indonesian authors and more contemporary books set in Indonesia. I'm so glad this reading list helps! It's also wonderful to see more and more of these books being translated worldwide. Sometimes it hard to access them, still--I wish my library had more.