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The Question of Red

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  2,496 ratings  ·  362 reviews
The Question of Red tells the story of two lovers, Amba and Bhisma, driven apart by one of the bloodiest Communist purges in the 20th century—the massacres that took place in Indonesia between 1965 and 1968, during which nearly one million people were killed.

From rural Java and Yogyakarta to the prison camps of Buru Island (where 12,000 alleged Communists were incarcerate
Paperback, Revised English Edition, 475 pages
Published July 2016 by Amazon Crossing (first published January 2012)
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This was one of several Kindle books offered at no cost on World Book Day. I knew nothing about this novel--or Indonesia--before reading this, and am grateful to have stumbled upon it.

The story starts on the island of Java, and the characters happen to be named after figures in a Hindu epic called the Mahabharata. In the novel, the characters are very much aware of the significance of the names they were given, but take it in as coincidence. The author, of course, has designs...this is both an
✨Sumi's Books✨
In 1960s Indonesia, a world being shaped by revolution, Amba is hell-bent on carving her own path through life. A path away from the unfortunate essence of her name (being that of a tragic Indonesian princess). Life begins to play tricks on her when she comes in contact with not one but two suitors. One of which offers her stability the other one carnal pleasure. How can one decide between the two? Amba has her work cut out for her as politics and religion come into play. She may eve
Missy J
1956 painting by S. Sudjojono

Finally tackled this big book (670 pages) by Laksmi Pamuntjak. It was my first time to read a work by this author and I'm quite impressed by what I read and the author's research skills. The idea behind the story of "Amba" is creative. Pamuntjak took a story from the Mahabharata of the tragic love triangle of Amba, Salwa and Bhisma and set it during the tumultuous years of the 60s in Indonesia. At that time a staged coup d'etat led to the massacre of anyone associat
I liked the way the author provided the story told in The Mahabharata about the love triangle of Amba, Salwa and Bhisma then provided a parallel story mainly based in the 1960s during the Suharto coup and the purge of the Communists (and anyone Suharto didn't like). She also tells of the prison island of Buru, the 12000 sent there and of the survivors through a series of letters written by the modern day Bhisma to his Amba. She also covers the Christian/Muslim fighting in the Maluka Islands star ...more
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Dnf at 74%. The prose in this book earned it an extra star for me, but I just couldn't get over the stark statement of the myth at the beginning. I felt like it spoiled the entire plot of the book, and afterwards, it just dragged. This was exacerbated by the its length. While a book based on the Mahabharata is a wonderful concept, it just wasn't realized correctly. It missed the mark for me. I also didn't feel like the author was able to make me care about the communist uprising. There wasn't an ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very well written book. Quite intricate, round written. The title is very mysterious, the reader has to read more than half of the book to understand the meaning of it. What is red, why red?
A book about love, based somehow on the mitology of Mahabharata, about loss, about hope. About politics and the killing in name of beliefs / religion. About politic prisoners, about colonisation, about life. A very good read, I found out a lot about Indonesia, about its people and culture and history.
Laksmi Pamuntjak's The Question of Red is nothing if not ambitious. Question of Red is almost 500 pages of epic love story stretching across more than 40 years. It is a mythic story drawn from the Mahabharata, set against the 1960s purge and imprisonment of suspected Communists in Indonesia, considering the roles of fate and free will.

The backstory in brief: Amba, a princess in the Mahabharata, was pledged to King Salwa, who she neither loved nor hated. Princess Amba was kidnapped by the warrio
This is a 4 and a 1/2 star book for me. I do not like giving spoilers.

The Question of Red revolves around a troubled love (a retelling of a myth) involving a woman and two men. All three have had different experiences growing up in Indonesia. The story is set in the turbulent times of 1950-80’s then present day (2006) Indonesia. It is obvious the author researched this turbulent politically, religious and violent time.

The prose starting in part two draw you in and keep you going. I can not give
THE QUESTION OF RED is a novel of Indonesia that is replete with metaphors, confusing mixed messages, and a couple of unnecessary characters whose story lines only serve to clutter the narrative.

The story utilizes a Hindu epic as its basis with the modern day tale set in the unsettling days of the Suharto regime. Metaphors abound with color representing various things (RED=violence, blood, communism and the unpredictability of life and BLUE= tranquility and love). Even Bhisma’s color blindness
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still halfway through the book, so I can't really make up my mind definitively yet. One obvious aspect is that Ms Pamuntjak had done a lot of research and has put in a lot of thought in writing this novel. I was worried that I might be reading history but I am in fact reading fiction, with a plot that makes me want to keep on reading. In other words, Ms Pamuntjak appears to have managed to weave the history into the story relatively seamlessly.

I will only be able to tell more once I complet
The question of Red, by Lakshmi Pamuntjak, is a love story spanning forty years and set during the turbulent political times in Indonesia. The book is translated by the author herself, and the original Indonesian book is titled 'Amba'.

Amba, is the fiesty and rebellious daughter of a poor Indonesian family. She is named after the character Amba in Mahabharat, for her father sees Amba as a strong, independent woman. But will her name decide her fate? When it is decided that she will marry Salwa, A
Sue Kozlowski
I read this book as part of my quest to read a book written by an author from each of the 169 countries in the world. The author of this book is Indonesian.

My knowledge of Indonesia was very limited prior to reading this book. The stereotypical vision in my mind was one of beautiful islands with people living in huts. Of course, the country is much more than that.

I loved this story. It was a little confusing because the timeline jumps around a bit - it starts off with the end of the story, then
Stephen Simpson
This may sound like a strange way to start a brief review, but I actually kinda feel bad that I didn't like this book more. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, and I really want to see more authors outside of North America/Europe get more attention ... but the book just never "popped" for me.

The two main characters, the woman in particular, were interesting and well drawn. Unfortunately, none of the events of the novel ever seemed to jump out from the page. In some ways, it felt like a
Nina 321
I struggled through the last half of this novel. The part I enjoyed most was the love story between the main character and one other man (part of a love triangle, or even a love rectangle). When the two first meet, the page sizzles in one of the hottest, most allusively beautiful pieces of writing about a woman being completely side-tackled by her sudden love-lust. However, this is just one part of a multi-layered, complex story -- and unfortunately (to me) also one of longueurs, repetitions, an ...more
A novel set in contemporary Indonesia, but centered around the retelling of a myth from the Mahabharata (one of India's two great epics, which is also hugely important across much of southeast Asia):

Once upon a time, there were three princesses who were sisters: Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. It was intended that they should marry King Salva, but before they could do so, they were abducted by the famous warrior Bhishma, who carried them away in his chariot (this being an accepted way of getting a w
Jason Lundberg
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this novel. It took me two months to read, which is a long time for me, even for a book of this size, because I kept stopping to savour the writing and the imagery and the depth of feeling that infuses every page. I’m just in awe of how epic and heartbreaking it is, and written so beautifully. The Question of Red is an amazing work of art, tackling darkness and redemption and love, and it inspires me to get back to my own writing pronto.

Utterly unputdownable and utterly important. What a
Henry Wijaya
Firstly, I must say that I didn't manage to finish this book. Thus, this review is based on what I've managed to read, which is up to p. 280 out of 577 pages.

From that fact above, it's clear that I don't generally like this book. Nonetheless, I'll first start this review by pointing out some merits that, I think, the author and her book deserve.

I do applaud the author from bringing up a topic, which many in Indonesia will still consider a taboo: the Gerakan 30 September (Gestapu or Gestok) or th
Adiyaksa Anggara
a bit "heavy" but overall I love the whole story... and it give me much impact about humanity, and see another side of sad reality as one of side effect one of this country's political catastrophe. I really love the character in this novel, especially Bhisma,I don't know, I just really love him though. And atthe middle of story it turn like a great adventure like Ramayana or Bharatayudha epic that represents by event that happening in that bloody years.
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, but sometimes it explains too much. Maybe useful, though, for international readers who know (too) little about Indonesia. Anyway, I am glad to hear it will be translated into German
Bening Tirta Muhammad
About enchanted love-story of a swayed strong-born woman. Story with strong characters with blatant weakness and belief in the same time.
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book, but it took some time for it to grow on me. Now, the trouble is, it won't stop weighing on me. But, I also feel the need to give vent to my disappointments.

I picked up this book because I enjoyed Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, a remarkable fictional essay that draws parallels between the mythological characters in the Mahabharata and political figures in early Independent India.

In The Question of Red, Amba's story in the Mahabharata plays out during and afte
Shelly Bajwa
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

They say that a name often decides the destiny of a person. Hence, we should be very careful with the names we endow our children with. This is the story of Amba, an Indonesian woman who sets out to fight the fate her name has predestined for her. When Salwa enters her life, she receives the first jolt but it’s when she meets Bhishma, she knows that taking their names in the same sentence would be enough to tempt fate. Will she be able to defy the stars and rewrite history with the names? Or wil
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
A superb read, chronicling a tumultuous period in the history of Indonesia while telling the story of a profound love. History is best learnt through the stories told of the places it occurred in.
I was intrigued by the premise of the protagonists bearing names from the Mahabharata and shades of the epic echoing through the events in their lives.
The book does full justice to it.
Amba, named for the tragic twice scorned princess from the Mahabharata, is wary of her destiny mirroring that of her na
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Aah,love. What a fickle, arduous thing. It is the one thing that makes you both the hunted and the hunter, the riddle and the prize, suburbia and the universe-but it is never just the one love."
Laxmi Pamuntjak debut novel "Amba: The Question of Red" is a well written book that tales the story of the Mahabharata forebears. Being more than the namesake myth, the book accounts the bloodiest Communist purges in the 20th century. While it remoulds the unchangeable fate of Bhishma and Amba with a mo
Kavita Jhala
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some books are meant to be read.

Some books are meant to be in the wishlist.

Some books are meant to be read and added to everyone's wishlist too!

Amba by Laksmi Pamuntjak  comes in the third category. Yes, for those who have read it know the virtue of a good book that infuses so many things seamlessly into one. 

Languishing in my TBR list, finally I picked this book and started reading. In all honesty, I was skeptical. Not in Laksmi's skills as an author but I was wondering how this book could be a
Emi Bevacqua
My 2-star rating is strictly based on personal preferences, and is not at all meant to impinge on Pamuntjak's considerable talent as a creative writer. This read is filled with gorgeous sights, sounds, smells and even taste of Indonesia, like "ginger, galangal, and turmeric" watered every day in a flower pot. Having only visited once, and only to a couple of that country's 17,508 islands, I just don't have the depth of knowledge required to understand this complicated book's multiple bases. To s ...more
Carla Castanos
“But all stories are made up,” I offered. “All telling is retelling, and therefore it is fiction. Everybody knows that.” — The Question of Red

I am not one to like #romance. I hesitated before starting this #book, but the fact that it was by an Indonesian women author (never read one before), and set against a controversial time in history that I knew nothing about sold it for me. I ended up liking it much more than I thought I would. I particularly liked that the author herself translated it int
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super interesting setting - I’ve never read a book about Indonesia, let alone this time period in its history, so even though I didn’t understand a lot of the strife in detail, it was still fascinating to follow Amba as she lives her life during such tumultuous times. It’s easy to feel for why she made the decisions she did.

I think the only big drawback I felt is how quickly one of the characters “falls in love” with her. I don’t want to spoiler-tag this so I won’t get into it, but there’s this
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read
Was this book really long, or did it just feel that way because I was reading it at bedtime for a month?

I enjoyed it, but it felt very long. By the time the story circled back to the beginning I had mostly forgotten the details of what had happened.

It was very interesting reading about a culture (or several cultures) and history that were quite unfamiliar to me. I'm sure if I had known anything about Indonesia under Sukarno and the politics and strife going on in the 60s it would would have bee
Erin Hale
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book reads like a memoir, it is fiction based on some historical conflicts that happened in Indonesia throughout the past 60 years. The story is intriguing & based around a woman who has an innate sense of independence & strong-will, but who finds herself torn between the life she wants, the life she has handed to her by family/predestination, and the life she ends up receiving.

The book essentially starts in present-day, then goes back in time to original events to explain the backgr
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Laksmi Pamuntjak is a bilingual Indonesian novelist, poet, food writer, journalist and co-founder of Aksara Bookstore. She works as an art and food consultant and writes for numerous local and international publications including opinion articles for the Guardian.

She is the author of two collections of poetry (one of which, Ellipsis, appeared in the 2005 Herald UK Books of the Year pages); a trea

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