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Bali, 50 Years of Changes

The conversation in this book deals with the impact of modern life on Balinese society over the past 50 years. Eric Buvelot, journalist and 13 years’ editor of La Gazette de Bali, interviews Jean Couteau, an observer of Bali for over 40 years, author of many books, and national columnist for Kompas. They discuss changes from sexual behavior to religious practices, the engagement of Balinese with foreigners and other Indonesians, issues of tolerance, violence, economy, spirituality, cultural evolution, and the shift of mentality from myth to rational thinking. First published in French, this book was translated by Diana Darling, author of The Painted Alphabet and long-time resident of Bali.

ISBN 9781922332905 (PB, 290pp);
140mm x 216mm
AUD $33 USD $24 NZD $33 GBP £18 EUR €20
ISBN 9781922332912 (eBook)

AUD $17 USD $10 NZD $18 GBP £9 EUR €10


Bali, 50 Years is an exceptional book readable by all and dealing with the impact of fifty years of deep changes on Balinese society, culture, life and psyche. Jean Couteau, interviewed by Eric Buvelot, responds brilliantly to this important issue
in a style accessible to all.
– Georges Breguet (Anthropologist, Museum consultant)

In Bali: 50 Years of Changes: A Conversation with Jean Couteau, Eric Buvelot and Jean Couteau have produced an intricate, sweeping, and controversial picture of Balinese consciousness, social patterns, and religious life, as well as Bali’s place within the national framework of Indonesia. It is doubtless the most ambitious attempt to present a holistic view of the island since Fred Eiseman, Jr.’s Bali: Sekala and Niskala (1990), or Adrian Vickers’ Bali: A Paradise Created (1989)
– Mary Zurbuchen, Inside Bali

Jean, your book with Eric is fascinating. The information is fragmented because of the rapid-fire questions, but the [interview method] enables you to deliver an extraordinary amount of knowledge: you have truly reflected on all aspects of Balinese life.
– Henri Chambert-Loir (Prof. Emeritus Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient)

Go beyond the usual clichés by reading Jean Couteau’s in-depth analysis of the tremendous transformations Bali has known these past five decades: society, religion, economy, women’s rights, environment… Nothing published so far approaches it. And I love the conversation format: very dynamic.
– Cecile Collineau (Book reviewer, Le Petit Journal Jakarta)

A unique insight into Bali written by two experts who have lived almost all their lives on the Island of the Gods, it will allow you a 360° trip into a society in full transformation, worth reading.
–Eva Peel (Singer & DJ Producer)

Dr Jean Couteau

Dr Jean Couteau is a multilingual writer who publishes extensively on a variety of genres and topics in French, English and Indonesian. A graduate of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and former lecturer at the Denpasar Institut Seni Indonesia, he is a reputed specialist on Balinese culture: Bali, 50 ans de Changements (2021), avec Eric Buvelot , Now Bali I (2005), Now Bali II (2008), Puri Lukisan (2000), Un Autre Temps: les Calendriers Tika de Bali (2004), Bali Inspires (2011), Time, Rites and Festivals in Bali (2013, with Georges Breguet), and Myth, Magic and Mystery in Bali (2018). Well-known as a curator and art writer, he was senior editor of the contemporary art magazine C-Arts, has written hundreds of reviews in newspapers and magazines such as Gatra, Tempo, Kompas, Jakarta Post as well as books on several important Indonesian artists such as Affandi, Srihadi Sudarsono, Walter Spies, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Arifien Neif, Made Wianta and Joko Pekik. He has written biographies of Indonesian public figures and contributed to journals such as Archipel, Le Banian, etc, not to mention short stories here and there. He translated into Indonesia seminal French writers such as Jean Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault. He is frequently asked to be a guest or keynote speaker at various national and international events. He was on the steering committee of the 2013 World Cultural Forum. He is presently best known in Indonesia for his "Kolom Udar Rasa" published in the Sunday cultural page of Kompas, which also published his "Kolom Indonesiaku" (2018). He is well-known for his articles on Balinese culture published monthly in English in Now! Bali Magazine. He is currently preparing another collection of his articles and stories on Balinese culture.

Eric Buvelot

Eric Buvelot is a senior reporter and writer residing in Bali since 1995. He started his career in France at the daily Libération where he stayed 10 years and learned the ropes of journalism. He has written hundreds of articles about Bali and Indonesia, in French or English, mostly for monthly Bali mag La Gazette de Bali, as chief editor for 13 years, but also for leading English speaking media outlets of Indonesia like The Jakarta Post, Indonesia Expat, Now Bali or the French language Le Banian. He launched the multilingual newspaper The Communities of Indonesia and the lifestyle magazine Saga. Besides Bali, 50 Years of Changes – A Conversation with Jean Couteau, he is also the author of the crime novel Bali Club Hotel, written in 1994-1995. Unfortunately, two successive publishers (Eboris and Le Choucas Noir) went into bankruptcy before the book could be released.

As a journalist at Libération in charge of digital media, he organized forums on Minitel (French pre-Internet system) and fixed-line telephony (Audiotel) about breaking news topics such as the Romanian Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the Maastricht Treaty… He was also involved in sports with coverage of the Roland Garros Tournament, Le Tour de France, the Football World Cup and the F1 World Championship over several years… As a political observer, he has interviewed prominent French politicians such as Jack Lang, Dominique Voynet, Alain Madelin, Jean-Claude Gayssot, Lionel Jospin, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac, and Robert Hue. Eric hosted the weekly music radio show Le quadrille des homards on Radio-Libé (France) between 1986 and 1987. He was also editor of the 1st CD-ROM released by Libération: Morceaux choisis par Libération, a musical interactive compilation (1995).


Read the review inIndonesia Expat

Eric's Facebook page

Jean's features in Now! Bali

Read our first review in Now! Bali magazine

from the Foreword by Kadek Krishna Adidharma

What happens when two men sit down to discuss the passion, wealth, righteousness and evolution of the people of their adoptive home? Will they reveal insights or yet more clichés of paradise? What can we learn about and glean from the culture being gazed upon? Would we learn more about human cultural adaptation, or more about the lenses used for looking upon changing human worlds?

As a Balinese, I read through these pages with a mix of awe at the breaking of taboos of discussing certain subjects and horror at the highlighting of some practices I grapple with within my own extended family, yet with a tenderness: Here are two men who are attempting to understand the culture of my people, our idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Here are two observers who are holding up a mirror to Bali. Here are two thinkers who have, in their own way, created a portrait of Balinese society: A snapshot of a woman of a certain age at the cusp of yet another great transformation. The woman may not enjoy seeing her wrinkles bared for the world to see, but it is also hard not to accept the token of love in all this attention.

The conversations in this book do not purport to convey an objective truth. From Lao-tzu to Jacques Derrida, to the more recent Charles Eisenstein, the fallacy of objective meaning has been widely recognized. The truths presented in this book are subjective, and usefully so. Balinese myths are full of subjective truths that are contradictory without being any less conciliatory. Only the initiate is encouraged to attempt understanding; novices are enthralled by the story, accepting that different passions and reasons drive each of us on in life. Our stories are told to keep us in wonder of the infinite possibilities of the world while embracing the fire in our own bellies, harnessing them to power our journey to pursue our own truths.

Growing up in Bali, we are told that things just are the way they are. Don’t try to explain them! Understanding is for later. When pressed into the role of a guide to foreign guests from an early age, I often felt the magic of creation when I attempted to explain my world to visitors. As I uttered my explanations, it became so! Fifty years of receiving such magic from his hosts and informants, and almost as many years of weaving them into vignettes in Balinese, English and French, have similarly transformed Jean Couteau. Prompted by the questions of Eric Buvelot, Jean makes sense of the stories he has received.