Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating


3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  199 ratings  ·  37 reviews
'Kalimantaan' - the old name for Borneo - tells of the founding of a small empire by an extraordinary man and a handful of his followers. Within 10 years Gideon Barr conquers an area the size of England and Wales, but the personal cost is enormous.
Published (first published 1998)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Kalimantaan, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Kalimantaan

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 470)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Fascinating; a mood of brooding mystery and impending catastrophe is established from the very first pages.

This book fails to receive my highest rating only because of the author's style which often leaves the antecedents of her pronouns unclear. Also, the glossary of foreign words could have been considerably enlarged; I often found myself consulting it to no avail.
Mindy McAdams
Beautiful and lush, complex, mysterious, frightening -- the book is much like Borneo itself. It's not an easy place to visit, let alone to know. If you have a little familiarity with the history, I think you will go deep into this book, like the jungle, and succumb to its charms and incantations.

When I was in Sarawak, I resisted all traces of the so-called white rajahs. I felt disgusted by colonization, greedy trade practices and the subjugation of native groups. In every bookshop in that state...more
Robert Martin
Apr 02, 2012 Robert Martin is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Godshalk is a most frustrating writer. Not only is her plotline opaque and desultory, her use of personal pronouns is confounding. One never knows who the referent is without a lot of work. All of this is worsened by the many exotic words/terms she uses without explanation.
This is sad especially because clearly she has a wonderful feel for the terrain, a feel I wanted to so much to enjoy but which eluded me in the thicket of peculiar vocabulary. I think there is a literary conceit here, a k...more
Kalimantaan is based on the true story of Sir James Brooke. Brooke was an adventurer who two hundred years ago acquired/seized a kingdom, Sarawak, roughly the size of England on the northern coast of Borneo. Borneo is an island in the Pacific that is part of the Malay Archipelago. Brooke and his followers ruled Sarawak for approximately one hundred years. Brooke's exploits have already been fictionalized at least once before that I am aware of in Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim.

In Kalimantaan, Brooke...more
This book deserves another star. Really. The plot is good, the writing is good. So why have I given it 4 and not 5 stars?

Because it needs finesse-ing. Really. You need to get over the horribly confusing amd disorienting 40-50 initial pages before you get to the good stuff (which literally then captures you and sweeps you away). Then you need to get over the myriad of Malay / Iban words that are NOT included in the glossary at the end of the book (you really DO need to understand these words to f...more
The first 20 pages are a tough slog while you figure out who some of the characters are, via letters. You might want to write down a few of the names and the relationships to orient yourself, until you pass through that section and get to the main story. After that, this is one of maybe the top 20 books I've read. Gorgeous, lush prose. If you're interested in SE Asia (esp. Malaysian Borneo), you have to read this. Novelization of actual history of the Bornean White Rajahs.
This is one of my quickest rejects ever. About five pages. I kept thinking, if the writing doesn't get more direct and transparent soon, I'm outta here, and I am. Too bad, because the theme -- an actual kingdom set up by a white settler in Borneo -- was fascinating.
Beautiful. Gives a real insight into an almost unknown world.
Dara Salley
This is a colonialist novel written in the modern day, with post-colonialist concepts firmly in place. If that sounds a little confusing, it was. Godshalk writes in the voice of a 19th century explorer very convincingly. There are various gritty details that betray the modernity of the author. There is information about feminine hygiene and sexual relations that would not have been included in a true 1800’s novel. That is one of Godshalk’s goals, to allow the reader to delve deeper into a coloni...more
Kalimantaan is a very informative and fascinating tale about a period of history and a region of the world hardly known at all in the West. The story is apparently based on an actual English adventurer who, during the height of Britain's empirical feeding frenzy, stumbled onto an incredible opportunity to feed his megalomania as well as his obsession with memories of his dead mother. By a combination of blind ambition and pure dumb luck, he was able to establish (under the Crown) a raj, or kingd...more
This novel depicts an English raj created on the coast of Borneo. It is written from several different points of view, although it mainly details the story of Gideon Barr the man who begins the ruthless carving out of the English settlement, and eventually the story of his English bride, Amelia. She becomes the center of the novel once she is introduced, which is a relief, because the novel founders a bit before her more human perspective is gained.

As I just mentioned the beginning of the novel...more
I found the writing in this book to be as dense as the place it was depicting. Set in the cloying jungles of Borneo, the plot swayed between the imperialistic hubris of British colonizers and the varying love interests of the characters. The author also tended to use pronouns over names quite a bit, making the story confusing and detracting from the flow of the tale. There is a small dictionary of terms in the back of the book for some of the native words used, but it was not sufficient enough....more
If you like historical fiction and would like to learn about English settlements in Borneo during the early 19th century then you may like this book. There were a lot of foreign words I did not understand and way too many characters to keep track of. I didn't really like the ending, either. It was a depressing book. The author did a phenomenal amount of research and I guess I can't really fault her for writing such a dismal story. It was a dismal time.
I read this about 15 tests ago and recall being totally taken by it. It is fascinating. I recall feeling that I had been completely immersed in another world ... a world where various cultures come together and struggle for supremacy, some overtly, some subtly. Individuality stumbles in the face of cultural unity. Personal values become signs of betrayal. In the final analysis, one individual risks all.

A book for anyone who wants to be immersed.
Georgina Penney
I live on Borneo and one of the reasons I wanted to come here origionally was this book. The characters were so vivid they're still with me years later. The tension between the two characters Gideon and Amelia was beautifully maintained, the picture painted so vivid.

After moving here, I am constantly amazed by how Godshalk captured Sarawak and turned the environment into as fascinating a character as the people he writes so vividly about.

This is a breathtaking account of a remarkable place, a region that scarcely seems part of this world. The people in it are by parts naive, cruel, ambitious, incompetent, callous, endearing, loveable, open-minded and archetypal.

The story is sufficiently convincing that I needed to remind myself that, although based on reality, the characters are fictitious. I half expect to go to the region and see the old house and Chinese shops.
Couldn't finish it...I just couldn't get into ie.
Jeffrey Stalk
About how colonial powers tried to maintain a European way of life in a very alien environment. The book succeeds in conveying how superficial and fragile that "European life" really is and that, below the surface, all kinds of unknown and dark forces work against the colonials. The Chinese, the Malays, the Borneo natives, all see the Europeans as temporary interlopers.
A friend reminded me of this book, and it is brilliant! It one of the few books I've read straight through a second time (in fairness, I wasn't sure I fully understood it the first time--I mean fully understood the dense language). Quite a tremendous book and why hasn't she written more?

One line I'd written down: "July was a time of wind."
This was a historical fiction novel about a part of the world I had read little about and I found it fascinating, if a little bit depressing.

It takes place in Borneo, during a time when colonial "Rajahs" were taking over parts of that world. It was heartbreaking, but I couldn't put it down, once I got past the first 50 pages.
This was a tough slog. Made it through the first third and was ready to throw in the towel. Thank god for the introduction of the female characters who were at least mildly interesting. Interesting from a historical perspective but not sure how much of this will stick with me in the future.
A bit of a disappointment. While some of the character studies were interesting and well-written, the overall depressing tone made reading it a bit of a chore. Everyone in the darn colony is depressed or crazy? Virtually nothing positive happens to anyone over 70 years?
David Johnson
Yeah, it's opaque. That's a valid observation on the book, but not a valid criticism. You need to work at this one, just as the colonists, Dyak and Malay had to expend effort to understand one another. I really like this book and have read it 6 times.
This was the sort of novel I love. I was there completely. Sitting in the humid night air, smoking scented tobacco, listening to the Chinese traders across the river talking late into the night. A jungle, a world beyond, a cross-roads and a peril. Mmmmm.
Very interesting story of Indonesia's colonial history. Lots of characters (too many?), and various story lines make this a hard book to follow, but it's generally worth the effort.
Excellent book, great ambience. I went to Kuching sort of based on this to see the Brookes White Raja area. Complex but satisfying, a bit like Timothy Mo an insular possesion.
Dora Truong
This was one of the most beautiful books that never got the notice it deserved. A woman is tempered and tested by a difficult marriage in a lush, but cruel and exotic land.
Such an interesting subject, well researched and detailed, but the writing was often obtuse, pronoun usage confusing and the plot somewhat disjointed. Still worth the read.
Aug 25, 2013 Katie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Katie by: Lara
It took me a while to get into this book, because it's so descriptive. Once I got used to all of the details, I looked forward to reading this book each night.
Set in Borneo during 1840 and following, this novel is a fictionalized history of the "White Rajah" period of that area. It's fascinated and atmospheric.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 15 16 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Far Eastern Tales
  • Map of the Invisible World
  • Into the Heart of Borneo
  • Inshallah
  • The Size of the World: A Novel
  • The Dancer From Atlantis
  • White Man's Grave
  • Unto the Sons
  • Evening Is the Whole Day
  • In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos
  • Sepharad
  • Sisterland
  • The Road to Samarcand
  • The Tender Land: A Family Love Story
  • The Rifles
  • The Birthday Boys
  • Gothic Sports: Volume 1
  • The Year of Living Dangerously
Kalimantaan Reading Guide

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »