Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

 ‘The Way to Elsewhere’

The Elsewhere Hotel in Bali provides more than a promise of a peaceful oasis for its Western guests.  It has beautiful villas, gardens, a sparkling pool, and delicious food prepared by Perpetua de Mello. 

The guests include a French family, coming to terms with an uncertain future, Australian newlyweds, an older discontented Australian couple, and others.  Each have their own reasons for seeking to ‘find yourself’ as the hotel’s brochure promises.

Ms Lazaroo’s story contrasts Western privilege with local reality.  The ignorance of history and tradition, the disrespecting of customs and the values of others is uncomfortably clear.  The expectation that every need will be met, the selective blindness applied to obvious local poverty.  The locals, they tell each other, are so friendly.  They don’t stop to consider why.

Perpetua de Mello has her own story, which we learn aspects of, as she prepares dishes for the guests. Perpetua is not Balinese: she is of a mixed racial heritage.  She is both a local and an outsider.

But why does a luxury hotel require security guards?  And what happens when the guards are not there?

As the guests gather for dinner, simmering external discontent erupts into a hostage situation.  The guests are taken by surprise. Should they be?  Arguably not, if they were more aware of the local situation, of the rise in religious fundamentalism, of the impact of the privilege they assume by right.

The hostage situation causes individual reflection.  Perpetua wants to avoid tragedy, but opportunities to seek help require difficult choices. Will the hostage takers find what they want?  Will the guests survive?

 ‘Fear made you feel incapable of going on.’

Thanks to Lisa for recommending this novel to me.  It’s an uncomfortable read because I recognise that Western sense of privilege, have encountered people whose belief in their own cultural superiority discounts others, whose desire to extract a bargain at any cost so often ignores the poverty of those with whom they are bargaining.  And then there are characters such as Perpetua de Mello, straddling multiple cultures, belonging both nowhere and everywhere.  Sustenance is a universal need, and this is a beautifully constructed novel.  Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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