Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata

The Rainbow Troops is not only a fantastically written book, it also showed me that I can handle non-traditional narrative styles as long as they’re well written (for a time, I thought I could only read the ‘traditional’ style).

The Rainbow Troops follows the students at Muhammadiyah elementary school on Belitung, Indonesia. The school is at risk of closing down and the students and their two teachers must do their best to keep the school open.

That’s the main goal of the book, but the book is actually broken into three main arcs: the two trophies the students win (one for creativity and one for academics) and the fight to save the school. That said, the front few chapters are spent introducing the characters and the island they live in, as well as a few of their escapades, before they start on their quest for the first trophy.

The book is an autobiographical novel, which I’m pretty sure means “based on true events”. It’s also written a lot like a memoir, from the perspective of someone looking back on the past and telling you what happened. Ordinarily, that would be quite hard for me to read, since it’s full of opinions of the older narrator, but I found myself so entranced by the world created and the people in it that I didn’t even mind the narrative style. Just goes to show that good writing is what counts.

I do want to talk about the ending so BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD. The book could have ended on an easy high, with them saving the school. Instead, it took a different route and showed how most of them didn’t succeed. Only Ikal, the narrator, and Kucai, their self-serving class president ever ‘made it good’.

The two geniuses in their group ended up living in poverty, their minds wasted. Another one of their friends, the decent but otherwise unimpressive Trapani, ended up in a mental hospital. Seeing how their country failed them despite the best efforts of them and their teachers was heartbreaking. While the book does go on from that crushing reveal to end on a slightly more hopeful note, I was still crushed by the ending.


Overall, this was a really good read. It’s not your typical feel-good story, but it’s not total pessimism either. Rather, it’s a story about how far determination and effort can go (and how far it cannot). Would totally recommend.


  1. How interesting! I agree that good writing really can make a difference. I am glad this one worked so well for you. I am really curious about it too. Although I may save it for a time when I can handle a crushing fate to so many of the characters.

    1. I agree - not the best ending if you're looking for a feel-good read. I hope you get a chance to read this!


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