Saturday, November 24, 2012

"The Book of Jonas" by Stephen Dau

272 pages

Jonas is only fifteen when is family, and basically everyone he has ever known, is killed during a US military operation in an unnamed country in the Middle East. With the help of an international relief organization, he eventually finds himself living with a foster family in Pennsylvania. Naturally, he has some major trouble assimilating to American culture and dealing with what happened in his home country. Over time, he begins telling his court-appointed counselor about a US soldier named Christopher who saved his life the night his village was destroyed. Meanwhile, Christopher's mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the encounter in Jonas' village. When Jonas and Rose finally meet, something that has long been buried in Jonas' past begins to make its way to the surface, building to a shocking conclusion. 

This is a truly stunning debut novel. It haunted me for days after I finished it, and it's one of those that I don't think I will ever forget. The Book of Jonas raises some intense questions about war and the consequences of violence without demonizing either side. I like that both Jonas and Rose's perspectives are shared--and we get glimpses of Chris's through his diary--because it gives a more well-rounded view of a bad situation that destroys lives from all sides. This story also made me think about how subjective and fragile our memories are, and how two people or groups of people can see and remember the same event very differently. This reality means that we have imperfect perspectives of both history and current events, which is something I don't usually think about very much. On top of all this great food for thought, I also just enjoyed this story in itself. I like the way it is written in very short chapters, both because it seems to fit Jonas' fractured state of mind and because I simply get more sucked into books that are broken into small parts. The suspense builds nicely right up to the last page, and the conclusion isn't too neatly wrapped up--which would feel false--but it is still satisfying. Dau is definitely an author to watch.  

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