In Indonesia, Laskar Pelangi or The Rainbow Troops, a book about two village teachers and their rag-tag clutch of elementary school children has touched a chord, or rather, millions of chords. The book has gone on to sell five million copies, making its author, Andrea Hirata, the best selling writer of all time in the country, and the only one in recent history to enjoy international success.
Merely mentioning the name Andrea Hirata, though, seems to transform everyone in Indonesia, from posh society ladies to taxi drivers, into shiny-eyed eulogists. When I tell our cook that I am about to interview him, she squeals, fumbling a heavy ladle in her excitement. “I love his book,” she declaims passionately, splattering the kitchen with oil. And when my driver discovers he’s taking me to a rendezvous with the author, his voice chokes with emotion as he repeatedly mutters what a “nice man,” a “good man,” which everyone agrees Hirata is.