The Rainbow Troops

Andrea Hirata

The Rainbow Troops
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The Rainbow Troops

Andrea Hirata

The Indonesian record-breaking bestseller, in the tradition of Slumdog Millionaire and Shantaram.Ikal is a student at Muhammadiyah Elementary, on the Indonesian island of Belitong, where graduating from sixth grade is considered a major achievement. His school is under constant threat of closure. In fact, Ikal and his friends - a group called the Rainbow Troops - face threats from every angle- pessimistic, corrupt government officials; greedy corporations hardly distinguishable from the colonialism they’ve replaced; deepening poverty and crumbling infrastructure; and their own faltering self-confidence. But in the form of two extraordinary teachers, they also have hope, and Ikal’s education is an uplifting one, in and out of the classroom. You will cheer for Ikal and his friends as they defy the town’s powerful tin miners. Meet his first love - a hand with half-moon fingernails that passes him the chalk his teacher sent him to buy. You will roar in support of Lintang, the class’s barefoot maths genius, as he bests the rich company children in an academic challenge. First published in Indonesia, The Rainbow Troops went on to sell over 5 million copies. Now it is set to captivate readers across the globe. This is classic story-telling- an engrossing depiction of a world not often encountered, bursting with charm and verve.


On the Indonesian island of Belitong, young Ikal and his friends attend the local village school through thunderstorm or blistering heat. There are only ten students but, under the guidance of teacher Bu Mus, they develop a love of learning and form aspirations for their lives far removed from the cycles of poverty in which they live. Tiny, brilliant, Lintang, who must cycle over 80 kilometres a day through crocodile-infested swamps to reach school, aims to become Belitong’s first mathematician; Ikal longs to become a writer or a star badminton player.

We also meet Samson, who is obsessed with enlarging his muscles, the mysterious A Ling with the beautiful fingernails, the sweet-natured and bubbly Harun, who has Down syndrome, and the shaman-like artist, Mahar. Ikal and his friends are the Rainbow Troops, bonded by their commitment to the tiny school and the fight to keep it open in the face of corrupt ministerial officials and the nearby mine that will stop at nothing to dredge through the tin-rich land upon which the school lies.

The novel sold over 5 million copies after its 2005 publication in Indonesia, and it’s easy to see why: Hirata’s stories about growing up, friendship, falling in love and learning (not only to dream but to make those dreams reality) are heart-warming and compelling. The Rainbow Troops is more than that, though – it is an exploration of the way that poverty impacts on children’s opportunities and how the poorest families are barred from education, even on an island as commercially rich as Belitong.

Now that The Rainbow Troops, with its simple and conversational writing style, has been translated into English for the first time, we too can experience the struggles and triumphs of Ikal and his friends.

Julia Tulloh is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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