The Question of Red

(Indonesia Only Limited Edition)

The Question of Red (Indonesia Only Limited Edition) is no longer available, in anticipation of the novel's publication in the US (July 2016). 


The Question of Red tells the story of two lovers, Amba and Bhisma, who were driven apart by one of the bloodiest Communist purges in the 20th century—the massacre of up to one million accused Communists in Indonesia between 1965 and 1968. The novel was published in Indonesian in October 2012 under the title Amba and is a national bestseller. In the novel, the lives of the central characters reinterpret the Mahabharata—that timeless allegory of war within a family—and move from rural Java to Europe and to the prison camps of Buru Island, where approximately 12,000 alleged Communists were incarcerated without trial during the Suharto dictatorship. 

Format: Paperback, No of Pages: 476, Date of Publication: April 2014. Available in Indonesia at all Gramedia Bookstores, Aksara Bookstore and other English-language bookstores. For queries on rights please contact Laksmi's agent, Kirby Kim, at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, 445 Park Avenue, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10022, T. 212.421.1700 ext. 211

Praise for "The Question of Red":

  • This is a richly textured, multilayered novel; an intricate weave of erased histories, living memories and formative myths of war and peace. At the centre of the saga are the compelling figures of the doomed lovers, Amba and Bhisma, who attempt to undo an ancient legend with tragic consequences. With passion and exemplary commitment, Pamuntjak brings to life a forgotten era of turbulence, with its casualties, its victims, and its perpetrators. I was immersed in the novel’s world for a week, and when I emerged I was spellbound for days.

    - Aamer Hussein, author of Cloud Messenger and Another Gulhomar Tree, for the Friday Times.

  • This novel merges the imaginative and the real in a way that is at once beautiful and astute. Amba is an essential part of the struggle against forgetting.

    - Amarzan Loebis, poet, senior editor of Tempo magazine, former political prisoner in the Buru Island prison camp.

  • While telling the story of feisty Amba and enigmatic Bhisma, the main character of The Question of Red is not a person but a place. Buru, an island inscribed with mystery, fear and mythologising on account of its unwilling inhabitants in the 1970s, is not just the backdrop to the events of this carefully crafted and meticulously researched tale, it drives the events, it shapes people's lives and it, like the people who live there, is changed forever by the aftermath of 1965. This is compelling reading and an exceedingly important contribution to literary imaginings of 1965.

    - - Pamela Allen, Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Hobart, Tasmania.

  • A deftly written novel of epic proportions, The Question of Red is a great read for anybody interested in Indonesian literature, history, mythology and beyond - for the themes of love and war are eternal.

    - Professor Saskia Wieringa, Author of Lubang Buaya (Crocodile Hole) and numerous books on Indonesian politics.

  • “… in terms of its grasp of the material, its erudition, the depth of its humanity, and its stylistic mastery, (Amba) is simply world-class. In Indonesia itself this is undoubtedly one of the towering achievements of our country’s literature.”

    - Bambang Sugiharto, literary critic and Professor of Aesthetics, Parahyangan University.

  • Amba is the best (Indonesian) novel since the Earth of Mankind tetralogy.

    - J.B. Kristanto, journalist, literary critic.

  • A compelling love story, elegantly and passionately told by one of the sharpest minds of her generation, set in a history held as most taboo in [Indonesia].

    - Ariel Heryanto, Associate Professor of Indonesian Studies and Head of Southeast Asia Centre, Australian National University.

  • With a stunning diction, Laksmi Pamuntjak offers a love story that isn’t just colossal but also profoundly moving. It serves up not just romance but also opens up many windows into history and lessons of life.

    - Dewi Lestari (Dee), best-selling novelist, short story writer, songstress.

  • With this novel Laksmi Pamuntjak firmly establishes herself as one of the most eloquent writers of Indonesian history, intertwining scenes of great tension and reckless passion with sections of great historical interest…

    - Professor Saskia Wieringa, author of Lubang Buaya, for The Jakarta Globe

  • In The Question of Red, Laksmi Pamuntjak takes on one of the bloodiest and most violent political massacres the world has ever seen, an event that - curiously - remains unknown in many parts of the world and barely spoken about in contemporary South East Asia: Indonesia's coup d'état of 1965, which cost a million lives and set the tone for fifty years of instability in the most populous Muslim country in the world. It is a love story, but also a bold confrontation of a country's past - its shame and its glorious potential. A huge bestseller on its publication in Indonesia, The Question of Red signalled Laksmi Pamuntjak's bravery and scope as a writer, and may yet prove to be a landmark work of South East Asian writing.

    - Tash Aw, author of Harmony Silk Factory, Map of the Invisible World and Five Star Billionaire.

  • Laksmi Pamunjak's luminous imagination has brought us a seminal work of Southeast Asian literature. The Question of Red explores with urgent context and brilliant writing one of the world's least known but most brutal political mass murders of the twentieth century. This profound meditation on memory and forgetting deserves a worldwide audience.”

    - Margaret Scott Rauch, Indonesia Scholar, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Administration, NYU

  • In Amba/The Question of Red, Laksmi Pamuntjak masterfully weaves a web of narratives dealing with a dark, bloody chapter of Indonesia’s history, the 1965-66 anti-communist purge – a topic that remains controversial to this day. It is more than a love story or a historical novel, it is also an erudite reflection of the stunning amalgam of what Indonesia is: a Muslim-majority country influenced by both the modern West and its Hindu heritage.”

    - Yenni Kwok, journalist for Time and The New York Times

  • The way Laksmi Pamuntjak approached the traumatic events of the 1965 coup, the massacres and persecutions in Amba/The Question of Red shows her mastery as an author. By interweaving story lines and changing environments the writer engages her readers on various levels. For an Indonesian public that has been immersed in a one-sided state-organised presentation Amba offers a new perspective involving real humans while through The Question of Red an international public is offered an insight in the effects that the events of 1965 had on lives through a novel that is literary in its construction and language but very down to earth in its protagonists.

    - Wim Manuhutu, historian and review editor of Moesson magazine in the Netherlands

  • If I was allowed only one word to describe Laksmi Pamuntjak’ s The Question of Red, I would say: stunning! If two, my other word would be: stylish. In the Indonesian/Indian world, the Mahabharatha is what Homer’s Iliad is to the Occident; having influenced their lives for millenniums, still continues to do so. Pamuntjak’s clever use of characters and allusions to events described in the epic, underscores the significance and weight the events of the mid-sixties bear on all Indonesians to this day, and will continue to, way into the future. The author’s unemotional, deadpan rendering will scare the life out of you. Is this what men do to other men?

    - Raman TRR Krishnan, Author, publisher, editor, critic, bookshop owner, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • I am always blown away by the meticulous research that goes into Laksmi's books and the depth and breadth of her talents. Whether she is taking on the complex and varied cuisine of her native Indonesia (Jakarta Good Food Guide), breathing life into renowned works of art (The Diary of R.S.: Musings on Art) or tackling the thorny history of Indonesia's darkest era, there is little she cannot master or distill for readers at home and abroad. This, like her other works, will endure as an important reference for anyone trying to better comprehend this vast archipelago.

    - Jason Tedjasukmana, Time magazine's Indonesia correspondent from 1999-2012.

  • In the book The Question of Red Pamuntjak takes the reader on a moving journey of a young love set against the turmoil of 1965. Based on thorough research but also interwoven with the great myths of our time, Pamuntjak manages to bring back to life these turbulent years with amazing details. Despite the film The Act of Killing, little is known about the terrible massacres that took place in 1965. The enormous success of the book in Indonesia shows at what crucial time the book was published. Now an international reception of the book is crucial. The Question of Red is one of the best Indonesian books I have read. I was drawn into the story immediately and it would not let go off me for many weeks.

    - Katrin Sohns, Program Director, Goethe Institut Jakarta.

  • Laksmi Pamuntjak’s novel is a skillful interweaving of the epic and the personal, the mythic and the recent past. In its meditation on the significance of the most humble of lives and the intimacy and immediacy of the most momentous of historical events, Amba reminds us that lodged within the breast of History is a living, beating heart.

    - Tiffany Tsao, Indonesia Editor-at-Large, Asymptote

  • Meticulous historical research combined with a profoundly moving love story result in a highly-nourishing, must have novel. (

    - Femina Magazine

  • There are hidden meanings in Laksmi’s characters in her novel—be it Amba, Bhisma, Samuel, or Salwa—far more subtle and affecting than the authorial messages/commentaries present in most Indonesian novels. (

    - Antara News

  • An affecting blend of history, mythology and romance, The Question of Red will resonate with audiences well beyond Indonesia's borders. Pamuntjak's evocative prose and story telling skills make for an engrossing read.

    - Pallavi Aiyar, journalist for The Hindu Times

  • What makes Amba not merely a historical epic or a common love story is the stylishness of its prose, the psychological depth of its characters, its reflexivity and erudition, and the meticulous research that lies at its heart, which breathes life to the setting and all the life situations and existential dilemmas it encompasses... What stands out first and foremost is the skill with which (its author) mines the potential of the Indonesian language. On the whole, the poetry of its prose… is one that succeeds in articulating the unutterable (in life’s conundrums), depicting scenes that are hard to render, and in so doing pulling every scene closer towards ever deeper dimensions of meaning. There is an immense skill at play in exploring diction and playing around with its semantic possibilities…

    - Kompas

  • In less than seven weeks, the phenomenal novel Amba is already in its second printing…

    - Her World

  • This novel… comes to us indirectly ‘at the point of forgetting’. A disappeared person; to stress his absence, the novel presents only the few letters unearthed from beneath the tree in a corner of Buru Island. We get the voice of a person, Bhisma, who ‘twinkles and fades.’ Amba is one of a few novels that stress the sense of anxiety plaguing us in Indonesia these days: the anxiety that the terrifying ‘events of 1965’ will be lost, stripped from collective memory. We do not want to return to brutality.

    - Tempo

  • Laksmi’s combination of poetry and prose achieves its strongest harmony in the letters…they exceed their function as the bearer of news; instead, they reinforce the subject in his absence. They arise like an echo.

    - Tempo

  • "A huge bestseller on its publication in Indonesia, The Question of Red signalled Laksmi Pamuntjak's bravery and scope as a writer, and may yet prove to be a landmark work of South East Asian writing."

    - Tash Aw, author of Harmony Silk Factory, Map of the Invisible World & Five Star Billionaire, on Amba/The Question of Red.

  • The novel combines poetic language and the determination to use literature as an instrument of enlightenment without ever denying the aesthetics.

    - Neue Zuercher Zeitung

  • (Amba/Alle Farben Rot) is an absolute must-read; ... it holds so many important lessons about Indonesia.

    - Die Zeit

  • It takes a while to discover what is what in this novel. And this perfectly captures the dizzying unsteadiness of a traumatized world poised between normalcy and catastrophe.

    - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Top 8 Books of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015

  • The most important Indonesian novel of this winter...

    - Cornelia Zetzsche, Weltempfaenger 2015 jury member.

  • One of Asia's greatest modern love stories! It is never easy to combine personal tragedy and love with a political holocaust, but Pamuntjak writes with such enormous confidence, emotional maturity and beauty that she has no problem merging the two. This novel, translated by herself into English, unquestionably places Indonesian fiction on the map of the 21st century and Pamuntjak as one of its principle writers.

    - Ahmed Rashid

  • Great literature lights our way and helps us to understand distant worlds; the best books make us part of those worlds - with all their horror, as well as their resplendence and intelligence. That's the kind of literature that Laksmi Pamuntjak writes.

    - Jose Eduardo Agualusa, for "Amba/The Question of Red

This novel will join the pantheon of the all-time greats in Indonesian literature.

- Goenawan Mohamad

See Also