The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata

A quick rundown… The story of ten students growing up and attending a poor village school in Indonesia.

Strengths: Truly heart-warming in parts.

Weaknesses: Sad in parts!

Why I read it: eARC sent to me by The Reading Room and Random House – thank you!

Pages: 265 (eBook)

Published: 2009 (English translation)

Publisher: Vintage

Setting: Indonesia

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Rainbow Troops is one of those books that make you feel good inside and positive about the people that inhabit this Earth. This tale is fiction, but is strongly autobiographical of the author’s life growing up in Indonesia. The story is told in the first person, of a boy growing up with the desire to attend school. In this day and age, this strikes us as somewhat unusual – everyone attends school, whether they want to or not. But for Ikal and his friends, they have to wait at the village school to see if there are enough pupils for the school to run. Luckily, at the eleventh hour, they have the numbers and the Rainbow Troops (as they later name themselves) set off on a life-changing journey, led by two wonderful teachers.

The book reveals the scrapes that the Rainbow Troops get into as youngsters and their strengths and triumphs (particularly over the richer PN school). The school lacks even the most basic equipment required by the government, but it doesn’t stop the group from learning. We learn of the great poverty of the village, where children aspire to be menial workers (for example, coconut grater) and the desperation of the teachers to change that. Despite the barriers, the Rainbow Troops overcome many trials and tribulations to achieve what they want the most – an education.

As the troop grows up, the narrative becomes darker (although there is a sweet subplot about first love). Two troop members have fascinations with the spiritual underworld and others are forced out of school. As the school battles its own demons, the Rainbow Troops become dejected, losing faith in what they have achieved. Can they find their way back and will it make a difference to their lives?

I felt this book was divided into three parts – the funny, lighter part when the troops were young, the ennui that occurred in their teenage years and then the final part as adults – beaten but still with hope. Each part had its own tone and it was quite a change for these determined youngsters to suddenly not be bothered. Other parts were absolutely heartbreaking – I felt quite emotional with what happened to some of the characters. As I believe this book is the first of four (I don’t think all are published in English), I thought the final part was a bit rushed. It was good to see what became of Ikal and his friends, but I wonder if it’s covered in greater detail in the other books…

I’d read this book if you’re feeling a bit down and dissatisfied with your life – reading about the Rainbow Troops is certainly inspiring and will remind you of what you have, and what’s important.

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