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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

‘The Interpreter From Java’
by Alfred Birney
Book Beginnings
First Lines

image of a woman sat reading by an open window - caption reads 'will these first few lines capture our imagination' - used as the image for Book Beginnings / First Lines, posts


This is a meme for all you ‘First Page Browsers’

Although I have to say, that in this case, it is the first several pages which need to be browsed! I swear this is exactly how the text is written, not a semi-colon in sight and yes, there are only two sentences to this extract – and one of them is only fourteen words long! – This is certainly going to be an interesting read, so take a deep breath and lets begin!

Cover image of the book 'The Interpreter From Java' by author Alfred Birney






“As a young man in Surabaya, my father saw the flying cigars of the Japanese Air Force bomb his home to rubble, he saw Japanese soldiers behead civilians, he committed acts of sabotage for the Destruction Corps, was tortured and laid in an iron box to broil beneath the burning sun, he saw Japanese soldiers feed truckloads of caged Australian prisoners to the sharks, he saw Punjabi soldiers under British command sneak up on the Japanese and slit their throats, he learned of the death of his cousin on the Burma railway, heard how his favourite uncle was tortured to death by Japanese soldiers on his father’s family estate, he betrayed his ‘hostess’ sister’s Japanese lover, he guided Allied troops through the heat of East Java, where Indonesian rebels were hung by the ankles and interrogated while he – an interpreter – hammered away at a typewriter, he helped the Allies burn villages to the ground, he heard the screams of young rebels consumed by flames as they ran from their simple homes into a hail of gunfire, he learned to handle a gun and, at a railway station, riddled a woman and her child with bullets when a Javanese freedom fighter took cover behind them, he led an interrogation unit in Jember, broke the silence of the most tight-lipped prisoners, he was thrown 250 feet into a ravine when his armoured vehicle hit a landmine, he was ordered by a Dutch officer to supervise the transport of inmates from the municipal jail in Jember and, arriving at Wonokromo station in Surabaya after a nine-hour journey, he dragged the corpses of suffocated prisoners from the goods train, he found the body of an Indo friend who had blown his brains out because his girl had slept with a Dutch soldier, and, amid the chaos of Bersiap, he killed young men with whom he had a score to settle. But for him the worst thing was when the neck of his guitar broke.”

So, you have taken a look, will you read the book?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Just to give you an extra helping hand, here is the book’s premise …


Cover image of the book 'The Interpreter From Java' by author Alfred BirneyArto Nolan is the father’s name; his son Alan strives to overcome his loathing and comprehend the man who abused him and beat his mother.

His father spent his evenings typing on his Remington. Later, Alan discovers his father had been working on his memoirs. He reads about Arto’s ruthless work as an interpreter who not only translated but also led interrogations, tortured prisoners, and did not hesitate to murder.

Arto’s passages are chilling in their detachment. He first describes how he was abused as a child by his own father. He later became an assassin. At first his targets were Japanese; after the occupation ended, he murdered Indonesians in the service of the Dutch, without question. The source of his loyalty to his overlords, from a country he had never seen, remains a mystery.

In this unsparing family history, Birney exposes a crucial chapter in Dutch and European history that was deliberately concealed behind the ideological facade of postwar optimism. Readers of this superb novel will find that it reverberates long afterwards in their memory.

A picture button for book beginnings at Rose City Reader

You might also like to visit Gilion, over at ‘Rose City Reader‘, where you can share links to the book beginnings from her own reading schedule and that of many of our fellow bloggers. There are always plenty of new authors and titles to be discovered.

Written by

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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Written by Yvonne