Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beside a Burning Sea - John Shors

Title: Beside a Burning Sea
Author: John Shors
Paperback: 419 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Published date: 2008
FTC: Bought at library book sale

For the last few years I've been reading amazing reviews of John Shors' novels.  His latest one, Cross Currents, is set in Thailand set during the 2004 tsunami.  The previous one which caught my eye as well was The Wishing Trees about a recently widowed man and father who takes his daughter on a trip through Asia to find healing.

Fortunately this past year I've found The Wishing Trees and Beside A Burning Sea at library book sales.  I think I'm going to start collecting them.  Beside a Burning Sea is so beautifully written -- and the book itself is beautiful.  I'll snag a photo to show you at the end of the post.

The synopsis:

One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, never expecting the experiences awaiting them…
Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company – and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but troubled woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving, as forbidden as it is seductive…

My thoughts:

I originally picked up this book because I am drawn to WWII settings.  While I've read a lot of books set in Europe during this period, I wanted to read more about what was going on in the Pacific during this time.  I wouldn't really call this a historical WWII novel -- the story takes place during this time but it's really about the characters.

The survivors consist of Captain Joshua and his wife Isabelle (a nurse), Annie (Isabelle's younger sister and a nurse), Roger and Nathan (military men), Jake (the ship engineer), Ratu (a young stowaway on the ship), Scarlet (another nurse), and Akira (a wounded Japanese soldier).  The book is narrated by almost all of these characters which is something I love.  I always enjoy reading different perspectives and it really makes the reader get to know each character.

One of these characters is a spy and betrayed the ship to the Japanese.  While the identity of the spy is known from almost the beginning, the story still keeps it's suspense as we wonder if and when the Japanese will find the deserted but strategically perfect island.  The most beautiful part of the story though is the relationships - Captain Joshua trying to reconnect with his wife Isabelle, the friendship and then love that blooms between Akira and Annie, and the father/son relationship that develops between Jake and Ratu.

While the book is beautifully written the only detraction is there isn't really any major twists and turns in the novel.  The spy is known, the relationships are pretty set, and I even pretty much knew who would probably die and who wouldn't.  But I guess this isn't supposed to be a spy thriller -- it's about love in the time of war, it's about friendship and survival, and about the characters and their relationships.

I'm definitely going to be reading more of John Shors' novels.  I mentioned to someone that John Shors would be a perfect alternative to Nicholas Sparks.  So if you like Nicholas Sparks (or like me and have never been able to bring yourself to read Nicholas Sparks) check out John Shors.


I love when publishers and authors add extra special touches to their books.  In this book there are individual chapters but each day is signified by a decorated page and on the reverse is a haiku (which is something that helps bond Akira and Annie in the story).

Also Reviewed By:

Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books

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