Title: Dragon House
Author: John Shors
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: New American Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Signed copy from the author.
First line: The hospital room looked as ill as the patient it housed.
Growing up, Iris always knew that a part of her father was missing – the part he had left in Vietnam. As a way of atoning for his part in the Vietnam conflict, he starts plans for a center for Vietnamese street children – but cancer takes his life before it is complete. Iris wants to make sure his dream happens, and also wants to know the country that had such a hold on him.
Her childhood friend, Noah, accompanies her to Vietnam to help with the center. As a veteran of the current war in Iraq, he has lost a leg and a friend, and all of his joy and faith in mankind. He only accompanies Iris because his mother wants him to – and because he has nothing else to do.
Together, Iris and Noah discover a country that, in some ways, is still feeling the effects of a war that happened a generation ago. Their lives become entwined with the people they meet: Thien, who has helped Iris’s father in his quest to open the center; Qui and her granddaughter, Tam, who is dying because she was too poor for cancer treatment; Minh and Mai, two children held in the grips of the evil Loc, who forces them to beg to keep him in money for prostitutes and opium; Sanh, a policeman who has a long-standing hatred for the American soldiers who took his family from him.
Noah and Iris become determined to save Qui and Tam, Mai and Minh – in spite of the danger it puts them in from Loc. As they begin to move past their own hurts and histories, they discover the work they were destined for.
After reading Beside a Burning Sea, I knew that I would be seeking out more of John Shors’ work. When he offered to send me a copy of Dragon House to review, I responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” – and I’m glad I did.
The characters of Iris and Noah became so real to me as I read. My heart especially ached for Noah, and the anger and bitterness and constant pain that he suffered as a result of the Iraq war. As he works on the center and meets children whose circumstances are worse than his, his own pain becomes less important – and he discovers that he is still able to love.
Dragon House is not an easy book to read. It is beautifully written and the characters are so real – and that is what made it difficult. I came to love these characters, and reading the details of the abuse and privation they suffered was heartbreaking. And knowing that there are thousands – if not millions – of children in countries around the world that live in such conditions … well, it’s not something that’s fun to think about. But it is something that is important to think about – and not just think about, but to do something about. John Shors is doing something by sending a portion of his proceeds from this book to Blue Dragon, an organize that helps feed, clothe, house, and educate the street children of Vietnam. Click on the link to find out how you can help.
And many thanks to Mr. Shors for the opportunity to read this amazing book.