The Year of Living Dangerously Characters

C. J. Koch

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The characters Cook describes are the products of his interaction with them and his access to Billy’s files, which Cook had taken after the Sukarno coup and which he has been studying in the ten years that have elapsed between 1965 and the writing of the novel. In his files, Billy consciously connects himself, through the controlling metaphor of puppetry and through references to myth and legend, to both Sukarno and Guy. As creator and “master” of the files, Billy believes that he controls peoples’ lives: “I can shuffle like cards the lives I deal with.” In addition to his files, Billy has some archetypal puppets which represent many of the principals in the novel.

The tie between the wayang, the traditional Indonesian shadow show, replete with puppets, and the contemporary political theater is explicit in the Jakarta Sports Stadium, which is a “sort of theatre.” In that drama, Sukarno plays the play of Bung Karno, with “Bung” being the archetypal daring older brother who “carries out every outrageous scheme” the Indonesians “had ever longed for.” Not only is Sukarno an actor but also he serves as the dalang, the puppet-master in charge of the shadow show; at his retreat, in fact, Sukarno often represents his ministers as characters in a shadow show. In his role of dalang, Sukarno resembles Billy, another master puppeteer; Billy elaborates on their resemblance: “I’m Gemini—the same sign as Sukarno. He and I have two faces—the hard and the sentimental.” When Billy steals Wally O’Sullivan’s “Sukarno hat” and wears it, his identification with Sukarno is complete.

Billy’s relationship to Guy, since it is personal rather than political, is more intense and complex. At first a professional “partnership,” with Billy serving as Guy’s “eyes,” the relationship quickly becomes almost...

(The entire section is 758 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton, a correspondent for ABS, an Australian news agency. Tall and handsome, Hamilton was born in England but grew up in Singapore and Australia. He becomes one of the best newsmen in Jakarta, Java. He and Billy Kwan have a successful partnership as well as a friendship. He falls in love with Jill Bryant but nearly betrays her, a lapse that causes Billy to break off their friendship.

Jill Bryant

Jill Bryant, a secretary at the British embassy. Emotionally vulnerable because of a failed marriage and a destructive affair, she is close to Billy, who is supportive but nonthreatening. She loves Guy and has become pregnant by him, but she believes Billy when he tells her that Guy has betrayed her.

Billy Kwan

Billy Kwan, a freelance cameraman. A half-Chinese, half-Australian dwarf, Billy, though intelligent and caring, is obsessive, controlling, and emotionally unstable. He chooses Guy as a friend and partner, helping him to get started in Jakarta. He idealizes Guy and Jill and believes that he has arranged their love affair; perhaps he has. He also idealizes President Sukarno, believing him to be the savior of his people. When Billy’s delusion becomes apparent, he stages a political protest during which he is killed. He keeps dossiers on subjects and people. The narrator uses these to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge.

Wally O’Sullivan


(The entire section is 527 words.)