The Year of Living Dangerously Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1978

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political

Time of work: 1965

Locale: Indonesia, primarily Jakarta

Characters DiscussedGuy Hamilton

Guy Year of Living Dangerously, TheHamilton, a correspondent for ABS, an Australian news agency. Tall and handsome, Hamilton was born in England but grew up in Singapore and Australia. He becomes one of the best newsmen in Jakarta, Java. He and Billy Kwan have a successful partnership as well as a friendship. He falls in love with Jill Bryant but nearly betrays her, a lapse that causes Billy to break off their friendship.

Jill Bryant

Jill Bryant, a secretary at the British embassy. Emotionally vulnerable because of a failed marriage and a destructive affair, she is close to Billy, who is supportive but nonthreatening. She loves Guy and has become pregnant by him, but she believes Billy when he tells her that Guy has betrayed her.

Billy Kwan

Billy Kwan, a freelance cameraman. A half-Chinese, half-Australian dwarf, Billy, though intelligent and caring, is obsessive, controlling, and emotionally unstable. He chooses Guy as a friend and partner, helping him to get started in Jakarta. He idealizes Guy and Jill and believes that he has arranged their love affair; perhaps he has. He also idealizes President Sukarno, believing him to be the savior of his people. When Billy’s delusion becomes apparent, he stages a political protest during which he is killed. He keeps dossiers on subjects and people. The narrator uses these to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge.

Wally O’Sullivan

Wally O’Sullivan, a correspondent for a Sydney newspaper. The unofficial head of the press corps in Jakarta, the overweight Wally presides over the gatherings in the hotel bar. When Wally is deported because of his taste for Indonesian young men, it is generally believed that Billy betrayed him.

Pete Curtis

Pete Curtis, a Canadian journalist who works for The Washington Post. Curtis is Hamilton’s main competition, and they are friendly rivals. Curtis is not very sensitive to others and often visits Indonesian prostitutes.

Colonel Ralph Henderson

Colonel Ralph Henderson, a military attaché at the British embassy. His pukka sahib demeanor suggests the remnants of the British Empire. He, too, is attached to Jill.


Kumar, Hamilton’s Indonesian assistant, a member of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Kumar arranges a meeting between Guy and Vera Chostiakov. Kumar acutely perceives the Western advantages that his country lacks.

Vera Chostiakov

Vera Chostiakov, a cultural attaché at the Soviet embassy. She uses her sexual attractiveness to try to get information from Guy about a Chinese arms shipment to the PKI. Her play for Guy leads Billy to believe Guy to be false.


Sukarno, the Indonesian president. A charismatic man, he attempts to build a powerful Indonesian self-image but eventually loses touch with his people and lets political schemes overtake him.


Ibu, an Indonesian woman. Ibu (which means “mother” in Indonesian) represents the poor for Billy, and her fate impels Billy to undertake his rebellion against Sukarno.

R. J. Cook

R. J. Cook, the narrator, a correspondent for a news agency. A divorced, lapsed Catholic, he becomes confessor, or confidant, to the members of the press corps. His knowledge of his colleagues, combined with information from Billy’s files, allows him to write this account.

BibliographyKoch, C. J. “An Australian Writer Speaks,” in Westerly. III (1980), pp. 69-75.Sharrad, Paul. “Pour mieux sauter: Christopher Koch’s Novels in Relation to White, Stow, and the Quest for a Post-Colonial Fiction,” in World Literature Written in English. XXIII (1984), pp. 208-223.Tiffin, Helen. “Asia, Europe and Australian Identity: The Novels of Christopher Koch,” in Australian Literary Studies. X (1982), pp. 326-335.
Categories: Characters