The Year of Living Dangerously Summary
C. J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously takes its title from Sukarno’s term for 1965, the year in which the novel takes place. R. J. Cook, Koch’s first-person narrator, recounts the events—both political and personal—that occurred during that tumultuous, chaotic year in which Sukarno was overthrown and Suharto, a right-wing officer, assumed control of the Indonesian government. Sukarno’s fate, however, is inextricably linked to the fates of Guy Hamilton, Billy Kwan, and Jill Bryant. In effect, there are two parallel plots which are connected by Billy Kwan, who sees himself in Sukarno and Guy—both of whom, he believes, betray him.
On the “domestic” level, the plot concerns the personal and professional relationships of Guy, the news correspondent; Billy, his cameraman; and Jill, the woman both men love. When Guy arrives in Jakarta, Billy secures an interview for him with Aidit, the leader of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party, thereby establishing Guy as a threat to Wally O’Sullivan’s primacy as Indonesian news correspondent. Billy also introduces Guy to Jill Bryant and, even though he says that he has proposed to her, encourages their relationship, which flourishes, despite Colonel Henderson, who also is in love with Jill, and Pete Curtis, whose prurient remarks about Jill disturb the somewhat prudish and romantic Guy. The relationship is threatened, however, by Guy’s actions: Once Jill tells him of a Chinese arms shipment to the Indonesian peasants, he is compelled to investigate the story, even though his investigation violates Jill’s trust and threatens her position. Although he knows that Jill is pregnant, Guy leaves her to go to Java with his assistant, Kumar, who brings along Vera Chostiakov, an obvious Russian agent intent on seducing and using Guy. Despite Guy’s behavior, which Billy regards as a betrayal of trust, Guy is reunited with Jill and promises to leave the country with her. His career ambitions, however, again intrude when the Communists revolt against Sukarno’s rule. While covering the coup, he is wounded and almost loses the sight in one eye, but he eventually makes it to the plane and rejoins Jill.
Billy is even less fortunate in his misplaced faith in Sukarno, who he believes is the savior of the Indonesian people. Billy maintains that Sukarno walks the tightrope between the Right and the Left while he actually supports Marhaeniam, the peasantry. So convinced is he of Sukarno’s commitment to the poor that he is duped by Sukarno’s rhetoric and blind to the real lack of action—and, ironically, Billy’s own photographs document Sukarno’s failure....
(The entire section is 649 words.)