Book Review – The Lost Temple of Java

The Lost Temple of Java by Phil Grabsky

For a while, I was trying to make my way through a series of books on sociology and anthropology and missiology. All good stuff to be sure, but the cumulative nature of these books was a bit overwhelming and pretty detached from the logistical challenges of planning an overseas deployment. At the end of the day these sorts of scientific texts are quite dry and generic, and their benefits have to be applied into a particular setting.

Having lost a great deal of enthusiasm for my upcoming project, I decided to step away from anthropological and sociological texts and guides and do something a bit more basic. Touristy, some might say. I wanted something that would get me back into thinking about and learning about and feeling – even if from a distance – the land I hope to call home for the next 5-15 years. When I saw this in the used bookstore it felt like the perfect option. This is a great book primarily because it has a lot of photos. Much of the book is history – specifically the history of Thomas Stamford Raffles, under whose governance this massive Buddhist temple was rediscovered in the 19th century after having been abandoned roughly 1000 years earlier.

It’s history, but it’s written well and the photos and sketches break up the text nicely. This is appropriate as we know frustratingly few details of the actual construction of the temple – who built it, why, etc. The biographical information on Raffles is therefore more concrete and relatable even if it’s somewhat removed from the actual temple. But it does help to contextualize the amazing nature not only of the rediscovery but Raffles’ progressive attitudes towards exploration and preservation.

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