Book Review: Pearls on the Prairie, A Survivor’s Story (2020) by Tedjabayu

On a wall in Jakarta’s Presidential Palace, the official residence of Indonesia’s president, hangs a 1947 painting titled Comrades in Revolution. The painting depicts 19 nationalist artists and activists who fought for Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands. Among the freedom fighters, the painting also shows the face of a 3-year-old boy. The toddler is the artist’s son, Tedjabayu. 

Few visitors to the palace, let alone its primary resident, would be aware that the boy in the painting grew up to spend 14 years as a political prisoner in one of Indonesia’s darkest chapters—the purge of leftists in the wake of a 1965 coup attempt that the authorities blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and ushered in the rise of the New Order dictatorship.

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Warief Djajanto Basorie reported for the domestic KNI News Service in Jakarta from 1971 to 1991 and concurrently was Indonesia correspondent for the Manila-based DEPTHnews Asia (DNA, 1974-1991). In 1991, Warief joined the Dr. Soetomo Press Institute (LPDS, Lembaga Pers Dr. Soetomo), a journalism school in Jakarta, as an instructor and convenor in thematic journalism workshops. He was project manager for three cycles of workshops on covering climate change from 2012 to 2017. More than 600 journalists in provinces in Sumatra, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Sulawesi and Papua that are prone to carbon-emitting forest and peat fires have participated.