At the stroke of midnight on 20 May 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste became the first new nation of the 21st century. From that moment, those who fought for independence have faced a challenge even bigger than shaking off Indonesian occupation: running a country of their own.
Beloved Land picks up the story where world attention left off. Blending narrative history, travelogue, and personal reminiscences based on four years of living in the country, Gordon Peake shows the daunting hurdles that the people of Timor-Leste must overcome to build a nation from scratch, and how much the international community has to learn if it is to help rather than hinder the process. Family politics, squabbles, power struggles, old romances, and even older grudges are woven into life in this land of intrigue and rumours in the most remarkable ways.
Yet above all, Beloved Land is a story about the one million East Timorese who speak nearly 20 different languages, and who are exuberantly building their nation. Written with verve and deep affection, the book introduces a set of colourful Timorese and international characters, and brings them to life unforgettably.
‘Peake’s book is a poignant and invariably deadpan mix of anecdote and analysis, and in my view is the best thing written in English about the country in many a long year.’
Simon Roughneen, The Edge Review
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‘Besides being a political diagnosis, it’s an absorbing piece of travel writing, vivid and full of well-turned character sketches … The mixture of forthrightness and warmth, and knowledge, makes this book not simply informative but in a quiet way exemplary.’
Owen Richardson, The Saturday Age
‘Gordon Peake has written a brilliant, serendipitous book about Timor-Leste that is the best work on the subject in recent times. His colourful insider tales from a parade of characters met in smoke-filled Dili cafes, mountain villages, and even factories in distant Northern Ireland tap into the complexity and chaos of life in the newly independent state. His critical approach and laconic wit spare no personalities, from UN bureaucrats to Timorese high-flyers, who would do well to read and heed this work.’
‘Beloved Land is a clear-eyed and critical love letter to Timor-Leste. It’s also a survival manual for bewildered malae (foreigners) in this complex and resilient nation.’
‘If the media coverage of East Timor is like shards of glass, Gordon Peake’s book is, by contrast, like a beautiful vase … Peake enjoys language, and this book reflects the way that it shapes nations … Peake’s book tells a broader story for all of us who want to reduce poverty … In weaving the tales of Timor, Gordon Peake illustrates why – as George Orwell put it – the injunction “behave decently” is not so shallow as it sounds.’
Andrew Leigh, Spectator Australia
‘Beloved Land seems well timed in an age of West Papua freedom flotillas. With hundreds of languages and tribes, Papuans form a more complicated accidental “nationality” than even Timorese. Peake’s memoir provides a potent lesson for all the king’s horses and all the king’s wonks should they ever try putting the pieces together.’
Ramon Glazov, The Monthly