Reviewed by George Simons at diversophy.com
What tourists don't necessarily see...
A Clown on the Streets of Jakarta is a collection of stories about Indonesians and about expatriates and tourists whose lives cross theirs.
It is not a great book or a professional resource but the kind of good read that enriches and satisfies us while taking us to humanity that is both different from our own and somehow deeply the same. It is worth more than a shelf of tour guides and a day of cultural lectures.
Mann provides everyday insights into Indonesian culture by taking us into the hearts and minds of the people themselves as they negotiate their lives on stages both large and small. The managing director and the village maid have equally compelling tales to tell, as do the lonely expat and the Australian tourist.
The stories are largely about people acting in and reacting to a breathlessly changing world. It tells of the hopes and aspirations that are fueled by opportunity in Indonesia's bustling capital city as well as the disappointments of fate. It is about ambition and resignation, feelings of progress and despair at disappearance of the familiar customs and landscapes.
There are stories of how men and women relate to each other and the power they exercise over each other. There is irony and pain and loss in the recipe yet reading them is as sweet to the heart as biji salak (sticky rice cake in brown sugar sauce) is to the tongue.
For those who have been to Indonesia or those who would like to go, here is an introduction to the people you will find there and both the simplicity and the complexity of their lives. Should you go there once or again, you too will have a story to write, or at least one to tell. I have one and I will tell you if you ask.