Book Review: Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

besideaburningseaTitle: Beside a Burning Sea
Author: John Shors
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: New American Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my own library
First line: Ten minutes before a torpedo sliced through the sea and slammed into steel, most everything was normal aboard the U.S. hospital ship Benevolence.

Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors reminded me that I love historical fiction. The US Benevolence is a hospital ship in the South Pacific during World War II. When torpedoes sink the ship, nine survivors swim to a nearby, uninhabited island. Joshua is the captain of the ship, devastated over the loss of his crew. His wife, Isabelle, her sister, Annie, and another woman, Scarlett, are nurses. Annie is weak from a recent bout with malaria, and only makes it to the island because of her patient, a Japanese prisoner of war named Akira. Nathan is an officer who only wants to get home to his family. Jake is an African-American enlisted man who has become a surrogate father to young Ratu, a Fijian boy who stowed away on the ship to look for his father, who is working as a guide to American troops. The last survivor is Roger, another American soldier, and the rest of the group has no idea that he is the one who betrayed them to their enemies.

Beside a Burning Sea is character-based historical fiction, which I love. I love sweeping epics, too, but I love the way this book takes a time in history – World War II – and distills it down to the experiences of nine people. The book takes place over the course of only eighteen days, and yet aptly tackles topics like marriage, parenting, prejudice, child abuse, violence, responsibility, and fear.

Though there are nine characters, the book focuses on three main relationships: the marital relationship between Joshua and Isabelle, the growing relationship between Annie and Akira, and the friendship between Big Jake and Ratu. I loved all three relationships, but especially loved the way Annie and Akira discovered each other, and the thread of poetry that ran through their storyline. Each chapter begins with a haiku from Akira’s perspective, and they are all beautiful and profound.

Shors’ strength obviously lies in writing character and in understanding people, no matter their heritage or background. I loved so many of these characters – and hated Roger, who was a truly chilling villain. I am so glad that he has other books already published – he is definitely an author I will seek out.

This entry was posted in historical fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Book Review: Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    Oh, this sounds fabulous! You know I love anything about WWII. However, the next War Through the Generations Challenge is going to be about Vietnam, so I’m going to have to switch gears. (BTW, if you have any great books to recommend for that time period, let me know!) I will want to read this one.
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – Wroclaw #3 =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – A must-read book about the Vietnam war is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Amazing book.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I acn’t wait to read this one!!

  3. Cathy says:

    I call this instant gratification: I read your review, lusted for this book, went to Paperback Swap, and they had a copy available. It’s now on its way to me!
    .-= Cathy´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

  4. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit

    this book is still on my shelf. I will have to get reading now before the end of the WWII challenge hits me in the butt!
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..A Maryland Chick-lit Writer’s Inspiration by K.L. Brady, Author of The Bum Magnet =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Serena – it’s funny, but your comment got sent to moderation because you said “butt”! 🙂

  5. Kathleen says:

    My father was on a hospital ship in the South Pacific during WWII after he was injured in New Guinea. I’d be interested to read the book and then ask him some questions to see if there is any relevance.
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..I’ve Been Uplifted by my Award! =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathleen – only the very beginning of the book takes place on the hospital ship – the first few pages, before the torpedo hits. It doesn’t go into a lot of the workings of the hospital ship itself, so don’t know how that would resonate with your dad.

  6. Kathy says:

    This book sounds fabulous! I love character driven historical novels.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Wondrous Words Wednesday =-.

  7. heidenkind says:

    The summary reminded me a bit of the show Lost. 🙂 This does sound like a great, great book. No one dies, right?
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..More Angelic Links =-.

  8. This really does sound like a great book. I love books set during WWII, not to mention character driven books. I am adding this one to my wish list right now. Thanks for your great review, Carrie.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Thanksgiving: Then and Now =-.

  9. Jennifer says:

    This definitely sounds like a very interesting book. I too love historical fiction especially when it is character driven. All three relationships sound extremely interesting. Great review and I’m glad that you enjoyed the book.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Movie Review: New Moon =-.

  10. Pingback: Giveaway: Dragon House by John Shors | BOOKS AND MOVIES

  11. Pingback: Book Review: Dragon House by John Shors | BOOKS AND MOVIES

  12. Pingback: Friday Finds – January 29, 2010 – caribousmom

  13. Harry Evans says:

    I don’t think John let the facts get in the way of a good story.
    Remember this 1942.
    Japanese soldier on a US hospital ship?
    A coloured man in the US Navy?
    A stowawayon a US ship?
    A hidden radio? Radios in those day were very big.
    A captain and wife on the same ship?
    An undected traitor who spoke Japanese?

    It is a great story but unfortunately it (even though fiction) gives a distorted view of the war in 1942.

  14. Pingback: BOOKS AND MOVIES » Mailbox Monday – September 20, 2010

  15. Pingback: The Sunday Salon – November 29, 2009 (The “buy-books-for-the-holidays” edition) | BOOKS AND MOVIES