Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: "The Book of Jonas" by Stephen Dau

This is a tremendously powerful and affecting book about the human cost of war, and the long-lasting effects of decisions made in the heat of the moment. Fifteen-year-old Jonas' entire family was killed during a U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. An international relief organization sends him to America, where he does his best to blend in as he finishes high school, deals with bullies, enters college, and falls in love for the first time. Yet he is haunted by his memories of what happened in his village, and how he survived.

Mandated by the court to see a therapist each week, Jonas is reluctant to share what he remembers, although he questions whether many things are actual memories or the reshaping of events to fit what he wishes happened, or how he wishes he reacted. Eventually he admits that on the night his family was killed, he encountered a U.S. soldier named Christopher, who saved his life, stitching up his wounds and caring for him. In the meantime, Christopher's mother, Rose, has been determined to figure out what happened to her son, as all she has been told by the military is that he is missing in action. When Jonas and Rose meet, a well-hidden secret starts to bubble to the surface, having major implications on Jonas' life and his future.

I was completely mesmerized by Jonas' story and how he handled everything that happened to him. Stephen Dau unraveled a thought-provoking narrative, which surprised me from time to time, and definitely kept me hooked. This is a book where the main characters aren't quite what they seem, which certainly is confusing from time to time, but that doesn't detract from the power of the story. This is less a story about war and more a story about how one survives from the edge of disaster, but it is also a story about the fragile power of memories. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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