Harrowing and fascinating by turns this book tells of the true story of a shipwreck and subsequent mutiny of a small group of sailors of the ship Batavia. To sum the book up in one sentence, I could say it’s a look at the senseless cruelty and brutality of humankind, however that would do the book and indeed SOME of the people involved a disservice.
To start with the book gives a good grounding on the problems of the day: the troubles with the different maritime powers and all the geopolitics that comes with it, the problem of not being able to work out longitude, the rise of Amsterdam and the Dutch East India company(VOC) and some highly heretical theologies doing the rounds at the time. All this is worked in neatly with details of the harsh conditions of the passengers on the ship, where a trip from Europe to Holland could take upto two years such as lack of food and water, scurvy and suchlike.
The three main protagonists are each extensively researched to give some understanding and insight into how they were influenced by and indeed influenced matters. The latter half of the book is taken up with the moral decay and depravity of men seeking riches and power. A tale of struggles on a small archipelago against not just the elements but of corruption, madness, blood lust and weakness of will. All this taking place miles from any help without much hope. None of the details is glossed over, and some people may find the book positively ghoulish in places. Two in every three people dies, which is worse than the Titanic’s death count.
However don’t let this put you off, if you would like a glimpse into the psychological state of humans, written in a neat and clear way, that is impeccably researched and unputdownable then give this a go. It’s not all doom and gloom either, there are acts of courage that really stand out and the final paragraph before the epilogue is poignant and good ending. This is a book that will gain you a real insight into history.