At an area bright with awnings, banners and rows of hulking tourist buses, camera-laden tourists were being shepherded to the entrance of a theatre, where, the billboards proclaimed, the famous trance dance of Bali was enacted at ten am each day.
‘Pseudo places,’ said Marla. ‘Pseudo events. I’ve been reading about it.’ At Warung Ibu Suci she had met someone who was doing a degree in Leisure Studies, majoring in Tourism. ‘Pseudo places define the tourist world, and finally eliminate places entirely and then the true like the real begins to be reproduced in the image of the pseudo, which begins to become the true.’ (p148)
It feels surreal to read this reissued tale of three travellers to Bali. When The Edge of Bali was first published by Collins in 1992, the novel was groundbreaking because it explored the culture of tourism, tested the relationship between East and West and interrogated the notion of exotic. But now, in the aftermath of the Bali Bombings, I couldn’t help but read Part One through a different lens, one with an expectation of approaching doom. Try as I might to remember the book’s original publication date, the timelessness of Balinese life takes over, and the story feels as if it’s taking place today. As Nelson strolls down the Kuta pathways to the bar, her head filled with romantic dreams of the Balinese boyfriend she has come to reclaim, I kept expecting the author to have placed a terrorist’s bomb to destroy the idyll.
The Edge of Bali is a book that could not have been written in the same way since the bombings. The carefree atmosphere that beguiles the tourists in Baranay’s novel is not as it was, so the sense of nostalgia is inescapable. But the issue of responsible tourism is the same, only more so…
Baranay has a light touch with these issues that bedevil tourism in developing countries – she avoids sitting in judgement with a setting so seductive that as the pages turn the reader feels transported to the same kind of relaxed contentment as the characters. A novel with these themes could easily have been tempted into polemics but it avoids that with deft characterisation and dialogue. An omniscient observer narrates the thoughts of the main protagonists:
- Nelson, a 20 year-old whose reunion with her Balinese boyfriend leads her into unexpected peril
- Marla,who’s intensely aware of the contradictions of tourism but finds herself seduced by Bali’s charm all the same, and
- Tyler, seeking a lost friend, is sucked into intrigue.
Each of these three has hopes and dreams, and each gets a reality check along with unanswered questions about themselves. Seduced by the smiles, their delusions of a Balinese destiny and the ‘pretty promises of a new and meaningful life’ (p169) are shaken into clarity by time. They don’t ‘belong’ in the culture and their privileged origins mean that they never can belong. If you stay in any holiday destination long enough, you discover that for yourself.
The Edge of Bali is a classic example of a book that should never have gone out of print. Congratulations to Transit Lounge for reissuing it!
Author: Inez Baranay
Title: The Edge of Bali
Publisher: Transit Lounge 2012, first published 1992
Source: Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge
Direct from Transit Lounge: The Edge of Bali, and Other Writings