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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: Dragon House by John Shors



From John Shors comes an unforgettable story of redemption set in modern-day Vietnam.

Dragon House tells the tale of Iris and Noah—two Americans who, as a way of healing their own painful pasts, open a center to house and educate Vietnamese street children. In the slums of a city that has known little but war for generations, Iris and Noah befriend children who dream of nothing more than of going to school, having a home, and being loved. Learning from the poorest of the poor, the most silent of the unheard, Iris and Noah find themselves reborn. Resounding with powerful themes of suffering, sacrifice, friendship, and love, Dragon House brings together East and West, war and peace, and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.


Iris' father, a troubled Vietnam veteran, never lives to see his dream of opening a center for Vietnamese street children fufilled. As a man haunted by the atrocities of the war, Iris' father was not able to give her much emotional and physical support throught her life. Nevertheless, after his death, Iris picks up where her father left off and travels to Vietnam. Noah, a childhood friend and Iraqi war veteran, also decides to accompany her. After losing one of his legs overseas and witnessing his own fare share of trauma, Noah has a grim outlook on the world. His life now revolves around trying to dull his pain with alchohol and pills. He travels with Iris more to appease his mother than out of any altruisitc motive of his own.

It was obvious to me that John Shors had done his research on the cultural sights, sounds and morays of Vietnam. Upon looking up his biography, I wasn't surprised to read that he has in fact traveled the world extensively --he tought English in Kyoto Japan for three years then backpacked through different countries for the next three. When I was reading Dragon House, I felt like he instantly transported me into Ho Chi Mihn City where I was able to witness everything through my own eyes firsthand. I could almost smell the spices in the air and hear the clamor of all the congestion and voices within the overcrowded and dirty streets.
From the street children Mai and Minh who live under a bridge, to Tam, with her loving grandmother, I was extremely moved by the character appeal of the street children. The adversity these children have to overcome just to surivive day to day left me reflecting on my own life, and made me realize just how trivial some of the small trials and tribulations I tend to focus on really are. The pacing of the story was fast and intriguing, and I found myself anxiously flipping pages in the hopes of finding out if everyone was going to be "ok". That sentiment extended to Iris and Noah as well. I really loved the idea of both of these troubled people coming to Vietnam and finding renewed faith in themselves and the world through their efforts with the center.

Ultimately, Dragon House is a poignant story of hope, redemption and most importantly, sheer love. I read it over a span of twenty four hours and could not put it down. This book touched me on a deep, personal level. You would think a novel about the plight of street children would leave you feeling exhausted and downtrodden, but after devouring this page turner, I was uplifted by the themes of love, friendship and the resilience of the human spirit.

A portion of the funds from Dragon House will be donated to The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation which works with children in need throughout Vietnam, offering them services and support in getting back into school and breaking out of the cycle of poverty. There is already one center open in Hanoi and is widening it's reach into Ho Chi Mihn City as well. To make Dragon House more affordable, Shores had the book printed as an economically priced paperback too!

Final Note- I know this novel isn't the usual young adult fictional fare that I normally feature on this blog. But it's an important book, and one that needs to be celebrated and talked about. For that reason, I asked to read and review it. John Shors was kind enough to send me a copy and I want to thank him for the opportunity! I hope readers will be inspired to pick it up - I know they will not be disappointed!

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade(September 1st 2009)
ISBN-10: 0451227859
ISBN-13: 978-0451227850
Buy at: Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, etc
John Shores Official Website
Visit John Shors on Myspace


John Shors has been lucky enough to spend much of his life abroad. After graduating in 1991 from Colorado College (where he studied creative writing and received an English degree) Shors pursued his dream of living in Asia. Fate brought him to Kyoto, Japan, and landed him a job as an English teacher; a post he held for three years. Shors then backpacked across Asia, visiting ten countries over the course of the next few years. Highlights from his journey included climbing the Himalayas of Nepal and exploring the monuments of India.

Always on a tight budget, Shors ate, played, and exchanged ideas with locals across the continent, becoming acquainted with customs and cultures that on the surface seemed so contrary to Western philosophies.

Upon returning to America, Shors became a newspaper reporter in his home state of Iowa. Within two years he won three statewide awards in journalism, including one for best investigative reporting. He and his wife then moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he began a career as a public relations executive, working for clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to local nonprofits.

Shors currently lives in Boulder with his wife and two young children. Beneath a Marble Sky is his first novel. He encourages reader feedback and is best reached at shors@aol.com


Pam said...

Thanks for the great review. I'm definitely adding this book to my wish list. I fell in love with Vietnam and the children of Vietnam when I travelled there in 2003. They smile with their eyes, even when to our spoiled eyes, it looks like they don't have much to smile about.

Sheila DeChantal said...

Excellent review. I too read this book and loved it! I have spent time in Honduras working with street kids so I could relate to a lot of what John speaks about in this book. I am excited to read other books by him.

Shellie said...

Great Post - it came out lovely in google reader!