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The Book Thief

You might be thinking, this entry is a book review. I did read Marcus Zusak's 'The Book Thief' earlier this year, in fact. (Quite good.) But no. This entry is about another book thief. Me. I have become a book thief.

Oh dear.

Look, this is how it happened. We went to the warung for dinner on the Friday night, like we had on Thursday. But we got turned away: ‘No food’ (not unusual, apparently).

So, we headed down the road to the ‘restaurant’, a restaurant by virtue of the fact that it was in a slightly bigger shed than the ‘warung’.

And, in the restaurant were books. Many books.

I was excited because I’d only brought two books with me and I’d already finished one (stupid!). When we asked if we could borrow books, the answer was a flat no. We were disappointed. I thought to myself, man, I know they think people won’t bring the books back, but seriously, I’d pay them for a book. Oh well.

Anyway, I thought I’d look through the collection. And what a collection. Any anthropologist circa 1985 would have been very proud (in fact I suspect that the original owners were just that – probably got here and left their books behind because they were too heavy to cart home). I wrote down some titles to share with you:

- New Guinea Body Decoration
- Antiquity and Survival New Guinea
- Oceanic Art
- Canoes of Oceaniea
- The Island Civilisations of Polynesia
- Gods and Rituals: Readings in Religious Belief and Practice
- The Material Culture of Kiribati
- String Figures of Papua New Guinea
- Archaeology of the Dreamtime
- Micronesian Customs and Beliefs

In fact, it was a little disconcerting. Someone with an abiding passion for the cultures of developing countries had put this collection together with care – carted it 5 hours from Dili or Baucau to Same – and there wasn’t a single book *about* Timor in it. 1985 was ten years into Indonesian times, when the pattern of no one goes in and no one goes out was well- established. And in the 70s, when cultural anthropology was huge in all these other places, Timor was dying a slow death thanks to the Portuguese - which was suddenly ramped up by the Indonesians. So nothing was being published about Timorese people or customs (or incidentally the Indonesian invasion, but ho hum move along nothing to see here, folks) at this time.

Anyway, I chose a couple of interesting-looking books and settled in to read while we waited for dinner (you might be the only customers in the restaurant in Timor, and it’ll still take an hour for your meal to be cooked).

As I was reading, I happened upon a couple of paragraphs of information on brideprice – my thesis topic.

Interested, I flicked through the rest of the chapters. OMG! Two on marriage! One on marriage customs! I *need* to read this book for my literature review, I thought. I haven’t got ANY other published information so far. Maybe I could come back tomorrow and copy it out? But... it’s like, three chapters. Hell.

And then, I looked around. There was only our little group of four, with the other three chatting away in Tetum while I read, and another two Chinese – Timorese looking guys drinking coffee on the other side of the room. No one was looking at me.

I slipped the book into my shoulderbag.

Nobody noticed.

And just like that, I became a book thief.

Next night, I came back with a bigger bag. And took two more books that had chapters on brideprice customs in the Pacific. Sure, it’s not on Timor, but I need to be broad about my lit review, because as I said, there’s not much published.

When I’m done with them, I’ll put them into a proper library collection. And I won’t steal any more books – unrelated to brideprice, that is. I promise!


I guarantee every single member of my family who reads this entry will say ‘Only YOU would steal a BOOK for your THESIS’.

Posted by timortimes 18:49

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