Reading is a great way to pass the time when sailing. I’ve always loved reading and since we left the UK for Bahrain in 2010 it’s been my pleasure to read travel books about, or novels set in, the places we’ve lived in or travelled through. Hence when I discovered a book list at the back of the Sail Malaysia pilot notes I was keen to dive in starting with those about Borneo.
After visiting bookshops in Kuching and Miri I managed to acquire all three Borneo books by Agnes Newton Keith, sadly not available digitally. This beautifully written trio capture expat life in pre war Sandakan, the horror of being interned by the Japanese in WWII and the family’s return to Borneo after the war. I highly recommend them even if you never come to Borneo.
Earlier in this year I’d been reading about Raffles and Indonesia. I can recommend both Nigel Barley’s In the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles and Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia Etc travelogue in which she explores the different cultures and tribes that make up that huge country. Both books give an insight into recent and past history.
Another Indonesian book I read and enjoyed back in 2016 as we sailed the Java Sea is Andrea Hirata’s The Rainbow Troops, set on the island of Belitung as the Dutch mining giant Billiton were pulling out. It’s a delightful tale of the determination of the local kids to get an education in the face of a falling school role and no funding. It is based on Andrea’s own boyhood experiences.
In between my reading of Agnes Keith’ second and last books, I came across A Leopard Sings in Sarawak, recommend by a couple of others in the rally. Set in and around Miri, featuring places we had visited like the Pisau Boat Club this novel describes life in the oilfields under British rule, their fall to the Japanese and the battle by the Australians to free both the people and the assets. It’s a tale of love and espionage based loosely on actual events. A very moving and exciting read and in a totally different style to Agnes Keith’s.
Still on my digital reading pile are Tan Twan Eng’s Gift of Rain and Noel Barber’s The War of The Running Dogs. The first is set in Peninsula Malaya as the Japanese invade and the second is about the Malayan Emergency that lead to the formation of present day Malaysia.
With a few hundred miles still to sail around the coast of Borneo I would also like to read something about Sarawak’s White Rajah era which we heard a little about in Kuching and Miri. Finally the North Borneo Company also fascinates – the last country in the world run as a chartered company right up until the Japanese invasion. After WWII with the company virtually bankrupt, the territory was initially handed over to Britain and thence became Sabah a state of Malaysia in the 60s.
Any suggestions for a good read would be more than welcome!