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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  54 reviews
One hundred and sixty years ago a young Englishman founded a private raj on the coast of Borneo. The world he created eventually took in a territory the size of England, its expansion campaigns paid for in human heads. Here, polite Victorian conventions coexisted tenuously with one of the most violent cultures on earth, often with startling results: pockets of tenderness
Paperback, 470 pages
Published April 15th 1999 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
Rating details
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Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mindy McAdams
May 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Robert Martin
Apr 02, 2012 is currently reading it
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
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)
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.
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 07, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Apr 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful. Gives a real insight into an almost unknown world.
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

My automatic mental rating while reading this book oscillated wildly. Before the women disembarked in Borneo I was ready to give up on it (2 stars), with the introduction of the female element the story got a lot more complex, personal and interesting (4 stars) but towards the end it dragged on quite a bit (3 stars).

Apart from its length, my main problem with this book is the style. Had I known that the author was going to throw a cast of (seemingly) hundreds of characters and a vast
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I couldn't get past the first 115 pages. I didn't know what the hell was going on in the story. I read that it's tough to get into but eventually it's wonderful. I don't have the patience to wade through while waiting for that to happen. Maybe some day I'll try again.
Regan McKay
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was written in such a frustrating and vague way that completely ruined the fact that it had some really exciting plot lines. It was a struggle to get through and despite really wanting to like it and enjoying some hints of what was actually going on, I really can’t recommend this.
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
"If he had reflected on his position at that (any) moment, on the absurdity of it, it might have created a vacuum in which the whole edifice would have collapsed on his head. He did not reflect." Kalimantaan is the tale of a boy making his life, and incidentally is also the story of leadership and followership in society. He set out with a vision of the king he would become, and in naiveté blundered along clueless, too ignorant to be fearful, but fortunate. And he pursued it with such speed that ...more
Aug 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dara Salley
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ann by: Nancy Hallberg; SLMJ
p.66 (re: Selladin)
He was one of those who carried Islam not in his head or in his words but in his blood...His fault was one frequently found among them: a monstrous dread of shame... He was, at bottom, a man whose wife was coveted by another.
p.82 (Bigelow says...)
...she's a nice female little woman and he must love her pocket, for the tribe he's producing."

from San Francisco Chronicle review (Brian St. Pierre)
"By vividly dramatizing the complications of women, Godshalk has filled in the blanks
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
Virginia Walter
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
This richly described, dense historical novel is based on the life of a real British adventurer who created his own raj on the island of Borneo in the mid-nineteenth century. We see this world -- the tropical landscape, the Chinese merchants and the Malay headhunters, the other British settlers -- through many different perspectives, but perhaps the most interesting is that of Melie the young bride he brings from England.
Christine Benagh
Sep 28, 2015 rated it liked it
There is a really great book in there somewhere. Brookes' story is marvelous; the mood is wonderful and evocative. The climax is outstanding, but, OMG, the narrative needs work.

The introduction is a total slog--and, then, who cares that he had deep personal problems after losing his mother. Then, the narrator shifts many times, but Godshalk does not know how to signal the shifts or identify the narrator's' place/s in the plot. How's that for creative punctuation?
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The author wrote a 'guide' on how to read this book. I kept shuttling between 'what a terrible writer' to 'brilliant'. It is a complicated narration but oh so worth the read. Perhaps the author recommends in her 'guide' that the reader make a schema of characters as they appear, because one would be lost without.
After grumbling right through the first reading, I went back to a second and loved it.
The thing about Godshalk .... this is her first book published.
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
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.
a great review of the area's history post East India Company and their likes. Adventurers clearing themselves a kingdom out of very violent areas.

interesting in seeing different personalities and their interpersonal interactions as well as their impact on the area inhabitants. There is no information on their environmental impact, land or sea.

The book does not engage the reader well on a personal level. It is a little difficult determining who is speaking.
Georgina Penney
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: inspiration
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.

Jan 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub
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.
Jeffrey Stalk
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Michael Alan Grapin
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a story of 19th century British colonialism in Borneo following the rise and fall of a self made Rajah by the name of Barr. I found the story complex and very confusing although there were moments of clarity that kept me reading. However, by the end I was questioning the wisdom of continuing.
Sep 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book better than I did. The glossary of native names and words is horribly incomplete and so generated increasing irritation as I flipped back and forth and ended up confused too many times. The careless use of pronouns also annoyed me. Otherwise the writing was very good, and I especially liked the chapters dealing with the Ranee's point of view.
Dec 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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."
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Christina Soccolich Godshalk (1942) is an American writer. After a stay of approximately twenty years in Southeast Asia, she wrote her only novel Kalimantaan, with which she debuted in 1998. The novel is set on Borneo. The Dutch translation appeared under the title Kalimantan. In the book, Godshalk gives a romanticized account of the expedition from James Brooke to Sarawak.

She now lives with her
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