Review: Dragon House

This book will be out in bookstores on September 1, 2009. John Shors has graciously allowed me to review his book, before it comes out with an advanced review copy. I’m doing the full review here, and later it will be on Amazon.

I have read his other book, Beneath a Marble Sky and am on the hunt for the other one Beside a Burning Sea. (Update: Beneath a Marble Sky was re-released in 2013 as a second edition.) My anticipation and expectations for this book were high because of what I has read of his works before. They were met in this one book.  He writes with a passion that can not be ignored, and much of the time what had come as a small detail, was important to the plot later on. Even the cover means something, although I am not a fan of the title “Dragon House” being at the bottom, I can see why the red upper piece was put there.

Vietnam needs more book like this.

In many ways this is a wonderful journey of healing and redemption. Set in Vietnam, it deals with war and pain, and the fall outs the people have to pain. Iris and Noah, deal with their own pain with a mission.  I found of the two Iris was the person I was most drawn to simply because she was the character who seemed to be the one holding the idea, and the people together.  Noah, as much as he is an important character, seemed to be along for the ride.  However, Iris, seemed to be the one who I could relate to the most.

It is to keep open a center in Vietnam for street children, the dying wish of Iris’s father, and this is only the beginning. At first the death seems to be the reason why these two people travel to Vietnam, one to heal from it and one to explain it. The other reason is that Iris is there to help and Noah to heal. Noah faced his own version of death, and it is from this that his family insists that he goes to Vietnam. From there the book takes on a life of its own.

There, the true story of death, pain, and redemption come alive. Both Noah and Iris find more than they expected in Vietnam, and the people captured my imagination. Shors makes the land come alive, and the passion that the people have. He had backpacked through Vietnam, so is knowledge is not simply from books.  The people are true to character, although the people who are “bad” are very bad, there is some emotional peace when it comes to the arc of the book.

Dragon House
Dragon House Cover

The descriptions of the life and land, are beyond anything that I had anticipated. The people are believable, and sympathetic and I wanted more. I got that. When the characters died, or were hurt, I could empathize with them, and the fall out.  The biggest challenge was the fact that Shors tends to put some political feeling to Vietnam than there needs to be. This does not distract from the read, but rather, if you have read any of his other novels, it is part of the writer.  It is giving the reader a chance to really feel what the writer is trying to covey in this book. It is not pretty and in praise of how life can be, but how we challenge our own ghosts of the past.

In this case, Vietnam shows us Iraq and our own loses.  Some might want to avoid this, but the result of war in the 1960s and 1970s still have an effect on Vietnam, and Shors makes this parallel in the Iraq war that the US is faced with.  This is a brilliant move, and one which at times is hard to keep, but it is still well thought out.

If anything the telling of this masterful story is worth the time. The reader is immerse in a rich and varied history and the messing of both past and present. John Shors is a master of sensory details, and of passions and people. it is the people who captured my heart and will keep me thinking of this land more.

Yes, I would recommend this book, Dragon House and I’ll be pre ordering it as well for many of my friends to read.

It gives a person a perspective on grief, hope, redemption and illusions.  This is a strong book for anyone who simply wants a good read in fiction and how people view life in a world different from North America.


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