Fear Not Shadows or Stray Dogs
Original title: Ne crains pas l’ombre ni les chiens errants
A young thirty-something discovers her very own paradise lost.
A couple of French ex-pats move to Indonesia for the perfect life. He works on a palm oil plantation, she is a freelancer writer. To begin with, they love life on Java, with its magnificent landscapes. Cassandra, from a modest background, likes to leave the high-walled compound where the Westerners live to explore the surrounding villages. But soon the dream begins to crumble. The island is threatened by environmental catastrophe and the small ex-pat community lives in a self-absorbed bubble. When Cassandra has a baby and then meets a forest warden, Amu, her delicate life balance is thrown off-kilter. She has just turned thirty: an age that is “die-able or viable”, she says. She chooses to live. Cassandra runs away.
A time to live
Camille Zabka’s second novel is a rich sensory journey through the lush Indonesian landscape and a touching portrait of her heroine, a young woman who acts on instinct in her quest for the truth.
The first days at the compound were happy ones. There was so much to discover. New words, rice paddies reflecting the sky like mirrors, the shouts of the street sellers. A grilled eel by a field, squeezing rice clean in water that turned smooth and cloudy, picking the pips from a papaya. The days were filled with such tiny things. Often I stood by the window and simply said “I am alive”, or even “I have lived”, as if already seeking the words to tell my own story, to explain my incongruous presence in this far-flung land. “Alive” in the heat of the afternoon, “alive” in the evening rain.
The author writes:
This novel began with an urge to evoke distant horizons. For the setting, I chose Java, in Indonesia, where I lived for two years. I chose the town by the beautiful name of Magelang, the old coffee plantations, the rain forest steaming on the flanks of the volcano. But romantic dreams of Asia clash with the reality of choking cities, burning forests, and the devastation wrought by the palm oil trade.
And then when I began writing, one image quickly took shape: a woman fleeing into the jungle, in a landscape suffering environmental ruin. With a quote from Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things: the heroine says her age is “die-able and viable”. I found that very beautiful.