Seventeenth-century Java is in turmoil between its Hindu-Buddhist past and its Muslim future, while pepper draws Europe’s quarrelling spice-hungry traders to its shores.
Thomas Hodges of the East India Company seizes a chance at glory by being the first to venture ashore at the pepper port of Banten in 1608. Will he unlock the mysterious riches of Java for the English, or die forgotten with a Javanese kris or Portuguese poignard between his ribs? He falls under the spell of a captivating interpreter, Sri, but can only retain both her and his Englishness by inventing a mission from King James to the mysterious great ruler of the interior – Mataram.
In Mataram he finds a kingdom poised to decide its destiny – between a rich past of gods and spirits, a sterner Islam and pushy Europeans offering both science and God. For Hodges and Sri, survival alone will be a challenge; reconciling survival and desire with conscience in this baffling spiritual landscape appears impossible.
“Mataram should be read by everybody who wants to understand Indonesia today in the context of a great history. It will fascinate anyone who is interested in problems of cultural pluralism, commercial globalisation, the issue of mixed marriage, Kejawen [Javanese religion], religious syncretism, political-religious entanglement, feminism and the history of European modernity that brought pistols, spectacles, maps and telescopes to Java. But I am sure that Mataram will also not disappoint those who don’t care about all these weighty social problems and only want to enjoy the love story of two people of very different backgrounds.” Prof Ariel Heryanto, Monash University, in Tirto (translated from the Indonesian)
“Creative expression is many an academic’s dream, but few manage to pull it off. Reid has done this wonderfully with his novel set in early 17th century Java.” Jennifer Lindsay, author and translator, in Mekong Review
“Romance, intrigue, warfare, adventure– Mataram has all the ingredients necessary to bring seventeenth-century Java to life. A young Englishman’s efforts to gain cultural acceptance of his marriage to a well-born Javanese woman illuminate the religious and cultural conflicts of this period as competing groups, including Europeans, sought to gain economic and religious advantage. Written by an eminent historian, Mataram will be welcomed by all those who see historical fiction as a means of illuminating the past.” Prof Barbara Andaya (University of Hawai‘i)
About the author
Tony Reid is better known as Professor Anthony Reid, author of ten historical works on Southeast Asia, including the much-read and translated Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce. He has taught Southeast Asian history at universities in the US (Yale, UCLA, Hawaii) and Australia (ANU), as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. He now lives in Canberra, Australia. Mataram is his first work of fiction.