I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Dragon House by John Shors.
We last heard from John Shors a few years ago with his first novel, Beneath a Marble Sky, which was about the building of the Taj Mahal. It was a lush, romantic, melancholy story of a nation in turmoil, beset by strife and searching for a road to the future. This time, the setting is contemporary Viet Nam, but the heroes and heroines overcoming tragedy, the exotic one might still say lush locale and certainly the internal pressures remain in place.
So we have a history, us and Viet Nam. But it was so long ago, what do we owe those people, that country? What do they think of us? Do they think of us at all? According to John Shors, they apparently are ready to let the past stay where it is maybe more than we are able to do here. In this novel, we travel to this very strange land with a woman named Iris a book reviewer of all things who decides to fulfill her veteran father’s wish of carrying something decent back to the place he couldn’t forget. On her journey to find herself best done in a fabulously foreign place I think and as she struggles to open a center for homeless children, she’s joined by a damaged veteran of Iraq, and aided and abetted by an equally damaged North Vietnamese police officer. (They were the bad guys, for you youngsters.) Sometimes symbolism doesn’t need to be heavy handed; in fact sometimes it’s not even symbolism.
As in his past work, I was delighted by Shors’ immersive voice. I could feel, smell, taste the brawling cities and the languid country. He’s at his best when showing us this beautiful and sometimes not so beautiful place, and helping us foreigners stumble through it (the traffic! the bribes! the heat!) as it starts slowly to make sense.
My only issue with Dragon House was the melodramatic dialogue from one of the children a sick child doesn’t need to be dressed up in sentimentality, and certainly every child on the street can’t be a saint in the making.Ê But if the plight of these orphaned, destitute street children doesn’t affect you, well, you’re tougher than I am.
Shors is donating some of the proceeds from this book to an organization called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which works with children in crisis throughout Vietnam.Ê Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation offers disadvantaged children a wide range of services and support to help them break out of poverty, forever, by getting them back to school and helping them achieve their best. You can find out more about Viet Nam and this organization at John’s web site, dragonhousebook.com.