02 January 2012

East Timor - A Nation's Bitter Dawn by Irena Cristalis

Few new nations have endured a birth as traumatic as that endured by Asia's youngest country, East Timor. Born amid the flames, pillage and mayhem that surrounded Indonesia 's reluctant withdrawal in 1999, it has been struggling for years to rebuild itself from the ashes

Zed Books | Published in 2009

£19.99 | $34.95

30 April 2009
ISBN: 9781848130135
368 pages
216mm x 138mm
Asian Studies
Asian Studies, Development, International Relations, Political Science

The author, one of a handful of journalists to refuse to be evacuated during the nightmarish Indonesian withdrawl, stayed on to report East Timor to the world, and to keep faith with the East Timorese whose story she wanted to tell.

Her book is a vivid first-hand account of the lives of individual Timorese during the long decades of Indonesia 's repressive occupation, their often heroic struggle for freedom, and their efforts to cope with the dramatic historic shifts engulfing them and their endeavours to rebuild their homeland.

Based on years of research, and lengthy interviews with East Timor 's leaders, priests, nuns, students and guerrilla fighters, this moving and extremely readable book is at the same time also an exploration of the complexities of the country's internal politics.

Irena Cristalis is a writer, photographer and broadcaster.



'The author's knowledge, understanding and love of the country shine from every page. This will surely become the definitive account of East Timor's most traumatic years.' - Fergal Keane, BBC Special Correspondent and author of Season of Blood

'If there is another journalist who knows as much about East Timor as Irena Cristalis, I haven't met them. Bitter Dawn is informative, vividly written, and acutely observed.' - Jonathan Mirsky, ex-East Asia editor, The Times

'Irena Cristalis's account stands out as a literary gem. A tale of courage and humanity on a colossal scale - a truly riveting book.' -
Peter Carey, Trinity College, Oxford

'Irena Cristalis writes as a committed witness. Her portraits of many of the individuals, high and low, who steered the struggle to its final victory give her account a special feeling of immediacy and warmth.' - Carmel Budiardjo, author of Surviving Indonesia's Gulag
'This is the book to read. Possibly the best account of the tragic events that preceded and followed in the wake of the ballot on August 30, 1999.... A highly readable book full of drama and tenderness for the victims of those terrible events.. [and] studded with beautifully crafted portraits of individuals trying to adjust to the situation' - TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, August 2002

'A highly readable book full of drama and tenderness for the victims of those terrible events' - Jakarta Post


'Irena Cristalis' eye-witness account of East Timor's struggle for independence and justice combines a thorough understanding of the country with a deep commitment to its people' - John G Taylor, author of East Timor: The Price of Freedom

Table of Contents

1. A View from the Ditch
2. Distant Glimmers
3. The Past Casts its Shadow
4. Requiems
5. The Bishop and the Mountain
6. Timor's Joan of Arc
7. The Crocodile Bares its Teeth
8. The Dam Breaks
9. Big Brother Xanana
10. A Difficult Time Never to be Forgotten
11. No Sanctuary
12. 'Fear is the parent of cruelty'
13. 'Asking the fox to look after the chickens'
14. Dancing with Falintil
15. Life in Uaimori
16. 'The Mouth of the Tiger'
17. The Price of Freedom
18. 'A Sea of Flames'
19. Under Siege
20. Counting Bodies
21. Healing the Wounds
22. Reconciliation
23. IndependĂȘncia!
24. Broken Dreams
25. Moving Mountains

About the Author:

Irena Cristalis, who also writes and broadcasts under the byline, Irene Slegt, is a Dutch journalist and photographer, who since 1990 has been based in Asia, including at various times Hong Kong, Beijing, Bangkok, New Delhi and East Timor.

She understands three Asian languages -- Chinese, Indonesian and Tetum, the indigenous language of the East Timorese.

She has reported on the wars, conflicts and independence struggles from Kashmir in the north west of Asia to East Timor in the south-eastern corner. Her photos and reports on China, Mongolia, Kashmir, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Tibet, Indonesia and many other Asian countries have been used by newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the world, including the Guardian, the Independent, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Der Spiegel, the New York Times, The Economist, the BBC, Radio Netherlands and Deutsche Welle. Her second book on East Timor: Independent Women, The story of women's activism in East Timor, co-written with Catherine Scott, was published in 2004.

Her connection with East Timor goes back to 1994. She lived there from 1998 till 2000 and spent time with Falintil in the mountains; she was also one of the three Western journalists to stay on in the besieged UN compound and keep on reporting during the ransacking of Dili by paramilitary and the Indonesian security forces at the time of their impending departure from the island in September 1999.

She has kept going back to East Timor at every important juncture in its recent history as an independent state, including the crisis in 2006 and the first parliamentary elections in 2007.

Since 2007 she has been living in London with her husband and small son.

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