Jul 22, 2019
by Diane McCurdy, Film and Book Reviews
The title of a book oftentimes is a major factor in attracting a person to delve into its pages. The title is a come-on like the aroma emanating from a delicious dinner. The appellation, Ashes in a Coconut promises mystery, exotic locals and maybe a little danger.
Jack and Laura are beautiful people: young, educated, childless, upwardly mobile. In New York Laura is a successful fashion designer and Jack is a financier. He is offered a job to turn around the fortunes of a troubled bank in Indonesia . He knows his whole career depends on his ability to make the dysfunctioning financial institution viable and Laura knows that to make her fragile marriage viable she must leave everything she has worked for and do the "wither thou goest, I will go" routine. En route to Jakarta the couple stops off in Bali and they come upon a cremation celebration. In Bali death is not sad. "Death is part of life. Not good to worry. Nothing you can do." Laura is sure that is why the Balinese are so content. They don't fret about the inevitable. After a body has been cremated, the ashes are put into a coconut shell and sent adrift upon the sea. "If I die first", Laura tells her husband, "I want you to put me in a coconut." The tone of the novel has been set.
On arriving and settling in at their destination the clash of cultures is stark, but Laura proves the more resilient of the two. Jack struggles against a system of graft and bribery and eventually succumbs to some very shady dealings. Laura teaches the local children and she sets up an ethnic clothing business that would benefit not only the native women but endangered species as well. In a bazaar, Laura sees an orphaned orangutan who had lost its mother due to the inroads loggers had made into jungle habitat. When the animal clings to her it arouses some kind of maternal instinct that leads to her ecological activism. She proves to be the stronger partner who is defined by higher purpose and secure ethical concerns. Instead of bucking the system, she enters it in order to try to change it for the better. Jack, on the other hand, becomes mired in some questionable activities that quickly spiral out of control.
Ashes in a Coconut is the debut work of author Bo Kearns who lives in Sonoma. He has won several literary awards and he continues to write for local publications. Because of the depth of information contained in this book, it is obvious that Kearns has intimate knowledge of his subject matter and, indeed, he did live in Indonesia for three years. The lush , tropical setting is intriguing, the plot is complex and unpredictable. We are given a panorama of color, customs, beautiful seductive women, corrupt officials, dogs and birds. The title draws one in, but the book delivers.
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