5 Novels Set in Indonesia

In this edition, Karma Group Literary Luminary, Philip Blackwell, recommends 5 fascinating novels from or about Indonesia. These include Anurdaha Roy’s All the lives we never lived’ and the exhilarating culinary novel ‘The Birdwoman’s Palate’, about a woman’s journey through Indonesia.


1. The Birdwoman’s Palate by Laksmi Pamintjak (Translated by Tiffany Tsao)

Originally published in Indonesian, the book was shortlisted for the 2015 Khatulistiwa Literary Award. The book follows the story of Aruna, a reporter, as she travels the country for an investigative report. In every local cuisine in the cities that she visits, Aruna discovers so much more than just-food.

The Birdwoman’s Palate


2. Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha (Translated by Stephen J. Epstein)

These stories set in the Indonesian everyday – in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages – reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. This is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Apple and Knife


3. The Original Dream by Nukila Amal (Translated by Linda Owens)

The Original Dream is the story of a young independent Indonesian woman trying to break free from cultural and social conventions while also searching for her place among family and friends. Whether soaring through the night-time sky, caring for her nephew, or tending to guests at the hotel where she works, she tries to delineate the difference between dreams and reality as if such a difference even matters.

The Original Dream


4. All The Lives We Never Lived by Anurdaha Roy

An enlightening story of a childhood from a child known as ‘the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman’. Anuradha tells the story that led him to leave behind his familiar environment as his mother traded India for Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s.

All The Lives We Never Lived


5. Harvesting the Storm : A fable from the shores of West Papua

From the shores of West Papua in eastern Indonesia, the story of the life of the Ambai tribe is told through the friendship of Andevavait the blenny fish, Bohurai the toadfish and Anggereai the striped crab. When the environment is damaged, the harmony of the creatures that inhabit it is also disrupted. Can the Ambai tribe stay true to their local wisdom and traditional beliefs to maintain the balance of nature?

Harvesting the Storm : A Fable from the Shores of West Papua

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