Book of the Month

Retronesia; The Years of Building Dangerously.

Tariq Khalil

Equinox Publishing


208 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1642047776

IHS Library book Retronesia

About the Book:

Have you ever wondered about the stories houses might tell if they could? Just think of the places you have lived; what tales might they tell?

The fifties in Indonesia were an era of newfound national character, of optimism and self-confidence and so much more. While Indonesians were developing their own identity and drafting Pancasila, they were also more bravely outward looking and committed to trying new things, new looks, and adopting what they liked from other places around the world.

One of the places they liked was southern California. As Khalil says, “The American post-war spirit responsible for introducing car culture, fast food drive-ins and flamboyant motels had a mid-century modern proxy in Java, now appropriately called Jengki, (after Yankee).” These Jengki-style houses and public buildings showed up all over Java, and on Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and surely on other islands as well.

While each building in this charming book has its unique story, the author also takes us on mini-journeys back through the at times dark history of their geographies. Snippets of history give each structure its place in the sweep of time, and the tales of maverick owners and architects illuminate for the reader its place in modern days:

  • “Over millennia, rocks bearing diamonds have washed into Kalimantan’s large river basins…;
  • ”Joint ventures between Chinese traders and local royalty go way, way back…;
  • “Puncak, Lembang, Kaliurang…were the first organically chilled luxury resorts…;
  • “Muslim mercantile groups…have traded in the port of Ampel for almost a millennia.”

And how, you might ask, did the author get these stories? By dint of persuasion, by sweet-talking his way past Satpams, and even by teaching a maid how to prepare Indian food for a homeowner who missed her childhood comfort food.

Whether you ever trace Khalil’s footsteps with your own, you can do so virtually through this charming book which offers a refreshingly new type of heritage adventure.

The book is available for $49.95 plus shipping to Jakarta at

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