Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From "a master storyteller" and author of Beneath a Marble Sky comes a new novel that follows a man and a woman from separate worlds, as the barbarity of war looms in the distance.
One moment, the World War II hospital ship Benevolence was cruising through the Pacific. In the next, she was engulfed in chaos, split in two by a torpedo.
A small group of survivors makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, including a wounded Japanese soldier who saved a young nurse from death. Akira has spent five years engulfed in blood and horror. Now, surrounded by those he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company. Sharing the mystery and beauty of his favorite poems with the beautiful American woman he has rescued, he watches as the others confront their own passions and demons. Meanwhile, a secret held by one of the castaways may determine whether any of them will ever see their homelands again.
I really enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was a really nice, enjoyable read. I love the idea of haikus to begin each chapter - that was such an effective way to lead into each chapter. I would look forward to seeing what the next haiku would be! The characters were interesting (some more than others but I'll get to that in a moment). The sense of place was great - at times I felt I was on that island with them. The writing was fine - nothing brillant but it was solid.
Ultimately, I think the structure of the story was a bit weak. My biggest complaint about the novel was that, at times, the circumstances in the book seemed a bit too romantic than you would expect given what was happening. The adjustment to the island seemed entirely too easy - abundant food, fairly easy shelter, etc. There wasn't much hardship given their circumstances. That bothered me a bit but not enough to stop reading. I just stayed focused on the characters and their overall journey and tried to suspend some of my disbelief about the accuracy of what they experienced.
I love that there were several strong women characters which I think can, at times, be overlooked in fiction about this time in history. Some of the characters were really relate-able for me but others were more difficult for me to 'get.' I really liked Akira, Annie, Ratu & Jake. Those relationships really came alive for me which I think contributed to my relating to them and caring about them. Joshua and Isabelle were so stiff and uninteresting to me. I kept waiting for some warmth but I just never felt it. I'd get moments of warmth with Isabelle during her interaction with Annie but otherwise I didn't get a lot of feeling from her. Other 'side' characters were interesting but their stories never really went anywhere interesting which was a shame. Now, Roger, on the other hand, was an interesting character. What a sociopath! I found him a bit over the top (at times I wanted to scream - YES! He's bad! We know it! Give us something NEW!). And some of his story came off as disjointed - some of his actions just didn't go with his character, in my opinion. But, he definitely served his purpose in the book!
Overall, I enjoyed the story but there were definitely flaws throughout. I found them easy to overlook because I found the concept of the book so interesting and some of the characters so compelling. This is one I'd definitely recommend (although I'd mention that there are flaws).
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