// you’re reading...


Fragrant Rice author Janet De Neefe lists her favorite books

When a baby is born in a village in Bali, the local priest visits the family and tells them who the baby was in a former life. If the baby was the father's grandmother, say, then everyone who knew the grandmother will come and see the baby and fill her in on what's been happening in the years she's been away. Fragrant Rice (Harper Collins) by Janet De Neefe offers a good insight into Balinese culture, and provides some simple recipes for Balinese dishes. I asked Janet De Neefe about her favorite books.

Janet De Neefe lived in Melbourne and first visited Bali in 1974. On a second visit in 1984 she met her future husband. She has been there pretty much ever since, raising a family and running the Casa Luna cooking school, and the Honeymoon Guesthouse near Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali. As well as being a cook book, Fragrant Rice is a memoir of Janet De Neefe’s years in Bali, and shows how the culture and beliefs of the Balinese hold the community together. Ms De Neefe says the Balinese have no need to find themselves, as people do sometimes in the west, because their beliefs give them a firm sense of place in the universe. The book shows a society that is the antithesis of the way the west seems to be, and highlights how much is missing from a lot of western society.

Ms De Neefe has spent years collecting recipes from the Balinese, particularly her husband’s family, and this shows in the variety of recipes on offer in Fragrant Rice. I asked Janet De Neefe about her favorite books.

JANET DE NEEFE: My five favourite books of all time:

The Bhagavad-Gita – The Song of God. A wonderful Hindu epic that lives beside my bed! I love to read it and use quotes in my artwork. Gandhi used to refer to the Bhagavad Gita in times of despair. The war between the brothers is symbolic of our internal struggles and how to conquer them.

The Garden of Life by Naveen Patnaik. This is a beautifully illustrated book that discusses Ayurveda and the healing properties of Indian plants.

The Painted Alphabet by Diana Darling. A magical Balinese story retold by Diana Darling about a famous witch supported by a cast of fascinating village folk.

The Lord of the Rings. A book I couldn’t put down many years ago – it’s an almost Balinese tale of good and evil with wonderful, handsome (thanks to the film) characters.

Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas. I love the characters in this story, somehow they remind me of my own children. I also love the references to religion and the duty of Hindu Indians – it is the same as the duty of the Balinese.


Check out Janet De Neefe’s website at www.casalunabali.com