Book Review: “The Invisible Palace” by Jose Manuel Tesoro


Invisible Palace by Jose Manuel Tesoro

Most 2Ls are lucky to have written a coherent resume. Two-L Jose Manuel Tesoro wrote a book. A real one, in bookstores, and on The book takes place in Java, and I’ll admit it took an Internet search for me to figure out where exactly that is, and whether it’s a country, a region, an island, or something else entirely. According to, Java is “[t]he most developed island in the Indonesian archipelago,” and “exhibits all the characteristics of an Asian society experiencing rapid transition: great wealth and equal squalor; beautiful open country and filthy cities; tranquil rural scenes and streets choked with traffic.” And that description does okay, but if you really want to learn how life unfolds in a land most of us have probably never thought much about, you should read Tesoro’s book.

On its face, the book is the story of the unsolved murder of an investigative journalist for one of Java’s top newspapers. One night, as Fuad Muhammed Syafruddin (Udin) played computer chess at home while his wife finished ironing the laundry, a stranger knocked on the door, asked for Udin, and beat him to death right in the doorway. The assailant escaped, and an investigation began, ending up with a man who’d never before met the victim being brought to trial… and you’ll have to read the book to find out how it turns out.. But even though the book is ostensibly about the murder and the ensuing investigation, where it works best is when it’s describing life in Java, and how the society works. By the end of the book, you’ll know the streets of Jogjakarta, you’ll envision life on Parangtritis Road, and you’ll have a rich sense of the world where the crime took place. You’ll know some Javanese mythology, and understand the Javanese calendar, and get a feel for a government that treats freedom of the press a whole lot differently from how we do. Plus, you’ll be taken through a murder investigation. Along the way, you’ll get a solid – and fascinating – education in the more mundane aspects of life in Java. It’s not often we get a chance – at least not for class – to learn about a culture very different from our own, and Tesoro writes as a true expert in Javanese society. It’s more interesting than it sounds.

Tesoro paints nice pictures. I felt like I could see the story unfolding. The book’s worth reading for an escape to a world (and, incidentally, a legal system, in case that gets you interested) very different from our own. Check it out. Even if you have no idea where Java is.

The Invisible PalaceJose Manuel TesoroEquinox Publishing, 2004$14.95(Book review by Jeremy Blachman)