Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Christopher Koch, The Year of Living Dangerously (1978)

Christopher Koch’s novel, The Year of Living Dangerously (1978), is a Cold War political thriller and love story that centres on several Australian and other Western journalists in Jakarta, Indonesia during the climactic demise of the nationalist Sukarno regime in 1965 following its flirtations with the local Communist Party of Indonesia, as well as with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.  The characters, situations and settings allow Koch to explore issues of Australian national identity and anti-Asian racial prejudice, as well as the orientation and involvement of Australia in the Asia−Pacific region, the location of its geographically closest neighbours, including Indonesia.  The novel presents the view that South-East Asia is more relevant to Australia and its future than Britain and Europe. 

Koch’s story provides his Australian readers with a critique of the legacy of Western imperialism in the Third World, as well as an intriguing introduction to the volatile and brutal post-colonial politics of one of Australia’s nearest Asian neighbours.  Koch also provides insights into the richly distinctive culture of the Indonesian island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located.  This includes an introduction to the ancient Wayang puppet theatre. 

The story centres on the British-born Australian foreign correspondent Guy Hamilton who is taken under the wing of Billy Kwan, a talented and well-connected Chinese-Australian photojournalist who helps Hamilton get many scoops, and who even engineers Hamilton’s romance with Jill Bryant, a beautiful young diplomat at the British embassy.   

As a Cold War political thriller, the novel creates as sense of danger and drama by having its main characters negotiate a minefield of spies, political agitators, government agents, angry mobs, and a brutal political oppression that eventually costs Billy Kwan his life. 

Koch highlights the chronic issue of poverty as deserving of both political and individual attention, advocating a Dickensian attitude of providing charity and spreading goodwill wherever it could make a difference to an unfortunate individual.    

Importantly, through the character of Billy Kwan, Koch addresses issues relating to the negative prejudice towards dwarfs or the physically challenged.  The novel, with some sensitivity, notes how many people have difficulty taking dwarfs seriously.  However, the novel does not overtly play this character for sympathy, instead it renders him as a complex individual with a full range of emotions who is extremely capable at his job as a freelance news photographer.  Billy Kwan is presented as so accomplished that he takes the hero of the story, Guy Hamilton, under his wing and contributes decisively to his success as a journalist. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Year of Living Dangerously meaning, The Year of Living Dangerously themes, The Year of Living Dangerously analysis, The Year of Living Dangerously notes