ASHES IN A COCONUT

Book Cover

In this debut novel, an American
couple’s marriage becomes tested by a culture of corruption in 1980s Indonesia.

Jack Harrison is a handsome,
self-made banker who worked hard to pull himself out of poverty in the South.
His wife, Laura, is a compassionate redhead with a burgeoning career as a
fashion designer in New York. She’s forced to leave her career behind when
Jack’s boss offers to make him president of a bank in Jakarta. There, a sinking
feeling haunts Laura when they move into the morbid home of the bank’s former
president, who left in a hurry under mysterious circumstances. When Laura finds
out that he departed because his wife committed suicide, she takes it as an
ominous sign. Despite warnings that Jakarta is tough for rich expat wives,
Laura tries to carve out a life for herself, getting involved in ecological
activism, teaching children, and even attempting to start a small business.
Jack, on the other hand, has a harder time adjusting. The bank he’s taken over
is owed $1 million from a defaulted loan and a local judge refuses to help the
institution’s legal proceedings without a bribe. As Jack tries to find more
business for his bank, he realizes cutting corners is de rigueur in Indonesia.
A particularly tempting offer comes from Johnny, the son of the president of
Indonesia, whose charming demeanor masks shady rainforest lumber practices,
among other things. With Jack hiding the complexities of the bank’s reality
from Laura, a rift opens in their marriage. In this intricate tale, Kearns is
skilled at building the stakes, but his treatment of local characters leaves
much to be desired. The Asian women Jack meets are frequently described in
exotified terms (“In the soft light from above, her dark hair shone like the
luster of black satin”). “The husbands here go gaga over Asian women,” one
expat wife says to Laura—a warning that echoes throughout the novel. But as
Jack and Laura’s marriage slowly unravels, a taut plot thread that threatens his
livelihood deftly comes into focus, pushing the heroine to the edge and turning
the book into an intriguing page-turner.

An armchair tour of complex
Indonesian issues, incorporated in a readable thriller.

kirkusreviews.com

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