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A House in Bali
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A House in Bali

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  191 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
This is a book about passion, obsession and discovery in an amazing land, but also about the voyage of a highly talented composer and writer.

A House in Bali remains one of the most remarkable books ever written about the fabled island of Bali. This classic book tells the story of Balinese culture through a history of Balinese music.

First published in 1947, it tells the sto
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 15th 2000 by Periplus Editions (HK) ltd. (first published 1946)
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Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Life in Bali when Kuta and Ubud were a tiny villages and Den Pasar was a small town.

The author never mentions in the book that he was married at the time at that his then-wife bankrolled his grand lifestyle--paying for homes, gamelans, festivals, etc.
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bali, music
I liked A House in Bali so well that I feel aimless having finished it. It's exactly what I wanted from a book: entertainment, an easy read, and something to address my interest in Balinese music. McPhee's descriptive talent is very satisfying. Will recommend it to members of my local gamelan club.
Gordon Mackenzie
Jun 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
I read this book while commuting on the local BART train...I am instantly transported away to a lost in time colonial Bali of the early 1930's with the sounds of the gamelan and imagery of the legong dancers.

It makes me pine for a chance to visit Bali now.
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Lyrical prose, work of genius. Composer Colin McPhee, enchanted by Bali, writes about the decade he spent studying its music and culture, and enjoying the exotic beauty of the island. A must-read.
Nicholas Driscoll
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
While certainly interesting to learn about the music and culture of a bygone Bali, and there are a number of memorable bits and fascinating morsels, I found the narrative less than captivating. For me personally at least, it was really meandering. I had trouble keeping the characters straight. I wasn’t sure what the purpose of the book was. Plus the book seems scanned into text, with some weird errors and random italics.

Sometimes fascinating, but I got tired of it unfortunately.
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Much more accessible than his big academic book on Balinese music, this is an intimate memoir of his years in Bali back when it seemed much more exotic and far away. A wonderful classic of travel literature. And a portrait of the island at a time when it was much more unspoiled by icky western influences.
Mar 02, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Interesting if you are into music and foreign cultures. Through his fascination with music, the author reveals a lot about life in Bali in the 1930s. I enjoyed especially since I'll be visiting Bali ,again, for the second time, in a month or so. It really is a unique and beautiful place, and many of the things that made it special nearly a century ago remain today (albeit a bit modernized).
Edward Irons
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Enchanting look at a bygone Bali. McPhee was clearly in love with the place, and focused on the images and memories of that love.
Melina Watts
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The author is a composer. At a party, he hears a recording of the gamelan in the 1920s in NYC and is so smitten that, after borrowing the record for a weekend, he returns the album and then immediately boards a ship to move to Bali to learn the music.

From the moment he describes an Indonesian variation on a slushy as "one of the hilariously colored ices of the tropics" i was helplessly in love with his narrative.

For a long time this was out of print and the father of my first child earned huge
Elisa Stargirl
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inspiegabile come una lettura attenta, dovuta al fatto di aver tenuto come ultimo libro delle vacanze estive nella megavaligia dei libri un malloppo che parla di un etnomusicologo occidentale innamorato dell'isola di Bali, dovuta al fatto di non avere null'altro da fare se non leggere sotto il sole di Bali, dovuta al fatto che forse pure io ci ho trovato un po' di magia in quell'isola, mi abbiano fatto amare un libro che in realtà è un trattato di musicologia. Un po' di storia e geografia dell'i ...more
Debbie Keen
I got this for my trip to Indonesia and read it a bit while in Bali. I tried to finish it once I returned home but found it weighed down with details about music and locals that just did not keep my interest. It was a good pick for anyone traveling to Bali as it describes the island as it once was long ago.
Rick Gross
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A snapshot in time of the author living for several years on Bali at two different times in the 1930s. His observations of living on Bali and the people he encountered is beautifully written. His wife was with him during this trips, but he makes absolutely no mention of her. In my mind that makes his story less than complete.
Stephen Castley
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a great portrait of Bali in the early 20th century. I've read it before but a second reading reminded me of a Bali past and all the changes that have taken place. It also reminded me of the resilience of the Balinese culture. It is worth a read if you love Bali.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Saffron 2017
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although the book was written 70 years ago it really gives one an insight to life in Bali and as Colin McPhee was a musician, the gamelan music is fully explained.
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this because I'm going to Bali to perform with a gamelan this summer, and this ethnography is on every bibliography about Bali.

McPhee describes his environment beautifully. Here is an enchanting moment from very early in the book:
...a new sound rose in the sky, high up, shrill and tremulous, sweeter than anything I had heard that day. I looked out. A block of pigeons circled in the last rays of the sun. The sound seemed to follow them, and I could not think what it was. I called the boy,
Nelson Minar
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A lovely memoir of a Canadian's few years residence in Bali, a perfect read for my own trip to Bali trying to learn a little something about the culture and music. The author's ethnography and music background makes his observations unusually insightful. But the book remains a personal and readable account, not academically dry. So (for instance) there are several lovely expositions on how to properly build a Balinese house, but they're told in terms of his friendships and quarrels with various ...more
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, travel
I came across some stunning photos taken by this author in a museum in Ubud, so I decided to buy his book. I'm really enjoying it, the prose is the perfect balance of lyricism and readability, the descriptions of Bali before mass tourism (which, though so different from today's Bali, can still be glimpsed if you look carefully) are fascinating, and McPhee's passion for Balinese music is contagious.
I don't think you need be familiar with Balinese culture to understand this book (when it was publi
Sep 25, 2009 rated it liked it
A musician travels to Bali to study that haunting but bright music and stays to build a house there. I enjoyed reading this while in Bali. It's a quiet book and funny in parts, having traveled there and having seen the personalities. At least in the early part of the 1900's, the Balinese were very superstitious (leyaks haunting the houses at nights, circling in the fields holding circles of lights). However, the author also expressed similar frustrations as I experienced while traveling there.
Dec 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Excellent book to read if visiting Bali and have an interested in gamelan. Perfect way to also experience life and passion of the author even those his stay and contact not more than a decade. It had an impact on outside works on this very unusual music. Marvelous intro book for a visit to Bali also.
Mike Barnett
Mar 11, 2016 rated it liked it
An interesting read about being in Bali way back before there were many westerners on it. I found it mostly interesting because by modern standards the book hides at least as much as it reveals: you wouldn't know from the book that he was there with his wife and that his friends included other western anthropologists.
Stacy Romillah
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved the multi-sensory descriptions and unique ways of perceiving the world.
Mia Ferreira
Mar 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Another easy read introducing Balinese history and culture. Not as relatable as Fragrant rice but better written.
Mona Bomgaars
A book written in the 1940's about the music and dance of Bali in the 1930s by an American musicologist. A bit esoteric but hopefully a good preparation for the trip.
Dec 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Definitely encouraged me to learn more about the gamelan and appreciate how music and dance is central to Balinese history. Choppy writing.
rated it it was amazing
Aug 20, 2012
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Feb 21, 2018
James Lamm
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Feb 10, 2016
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Sep 25, 2013
Pascal Mashmyer
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Sep 09, 2017
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