The Birdwoman’s Palate
Pamuntjak, Laksmi translated by Tsao, Tiffany
Amazon Crossing, 2018
Aruna is a consulting expert on Avian flu in Jakarta and, with an up-and-coming chef as a regular visitor and a food critic as a good friend, seriously enjoys food. When an outbreak of Avian flu is reported at several outlying areas of the country, the agency she is working for decides that she is just the person to go investigate on the ground.
Sensing a chance to get away from the office politics as well as try some regional foods she has only heard about, she enthusiastically accepts the assignment and, to keep it interesting, entices her friends to join her for some of the more interesting parts. In a road trip of sorts, punctuated by airports, hospitals, and hotels, a changing cast of hired drivers and local contacts, and the political ramifications of uncovering an artificial crisis, the group eats their way through small town Indonesia.
Overall it’s an interesting storyline, and there are enough other elements that get thrown in to keep it interesting through to the end. A highlight of this book is the care taken to describe the various settings; this is not a sterile environment but one of startingly realistic portrayals – several ties I found myself fully immersed in the roadside stands or infectious disease wards in which much of the story takes place, and I was always hungry when I stopped reading.