Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. John Shors is the perfect writer for me, because his books (so far) are based in Asia and have strong female protagonists (which both appeal to me very much!).
I would give Beside a Burning Sea four-and-a-half stars, but that's not possible on goodreads. I didn't love it quite as much as Beneath a Marble Sky--mostly because in that book I learned so much about Indian history and the building of the Taj Mahal. But I couldn't put this book down and was desperate to discover whether everyone would make it off the island alive.
The story begins on the hospital ship Benevolence in the middle of World War II. Benevolence gets shot down by a torpedo, and nine survivors make it to an uninhabited nearby island. Seven Americans, one Fijian boy, and one Japanese soldier...and one traitor and villain among them.
I had two very minor criticisms of the book. 1. The main Japanese character, Akira, spoke near-perfect English (he was an English professor before he became a soldier). After teaching English to Japanese adults who had been studying the language for years, I found his conversational skills a bit too perfect for reality. 2. The traitor/villain could speak Japanese because he grew up in Japan, but the U.S. military never learned that about him? But neither of these issues affected my overall enjoyment of the story.
Here are some things I loved about the book:
--The haikus that began each chapter (divided into days), which reflected what was going on at that stage of the book
--Shors' writing of Akira's appreciation of beauty, particular natural beauty, which was reminiscent of the Japanese aesthetic and appreciation for the natural world
--The interracial romances and deep, abiding friendships developed during the story
--The wide diversity of characters developed
--The strong female characters
--The rapid pace of the story and the tensions created between the characters
Overall, I would give it two thumbs up! I look forward to Shors' next novel, which will take place in modern-day Saigon.
One final note about Shors: I have been very impressed upon reading about Shors' creative methods for getting his books better known. After Beneath a Marble Sky was published, he included his e-mail address at the end of the book and encouraged book groups to contact him. He talked (via phone or in person) to over 1,000 book groups! I'm sure that really helped a great deal to get the word out...and no doubt helped to get Amy Tan's endorsement on the front of this new novel!
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