Friday, September 4, 2009

136 - Dragon House; John Shors

Iris Rhodes is a young woman, a book reviewer, trying to fulfill her departed father's wish, to open a center for Vietnamese street children. A place for them to stay and to be educated. Her father came back from Vietnam a shell of the man he was before, suffering from PTSD. He was unable to ease his suffering once he came home to his wife and daughter. He traveled to Vietnam after the war with a dream of doing some good, and by doing so, little by little he began to heal.

As Iris makes plans to leave Chicago for Vietnam, she reluctantly agrees to take Noah Woods with her as a favor to his mother. Noah spent time in Iraq, lost his leg while serving his country, and has lost his way, along with the spirit to live. He spends time easing his pain with alcohol.

Once they arrive in Vietnam...."a country that had know little but war for many generations, was strangely peaceful, as if the spirits of the slain had somehow infiltrated the spirits of the living. Hope abound across the land. Hope often obscured by shanties and brothels and misery, but nonetheless a collective aspiration for a better tomorrow".

Iris is surprised to learn that the center her father started was named after her: The Iris Rhodes Center for Children. It is around the playground of this center that her father wished to have his ashes spread. Noah begins work building a playground at the center, and at the same time he begins to find purpose and meaning to life......"Noah believed that a miracle had happened. In Baghdad, a part of him had been killed, and that part would never fully return. But in a warehouse outside Nha Trang, he had been given a chance to live".

The central characters in this story are vivid and unforgettable. They are Tam, a young girl with leukemia and her grandmother Qui. They beg for money to buy medicine to ease Tam's pain from the leukemia. We also get to know two street children, Mai and Minh, who are forced to beg, while being controlled by Loc, an opium addict, who threatens them and treats them as slaves.

Dragon House is a poignant story. Its powerful themes of suffering, sacrifice, friendship, and love, is a story that celebrates the human spirit, demonstrating once again that despite all the ugliness, pain and betrayal some individuals are forced to endure in life, the human spirit is resilient and cannot easily be beaten. Although the book is a work of fiction, the plight of the children is real. Yes, while post war Vietnam has improved, there remains: street children, prostitution, drug addiction, wounded war victims as well as Agent Orange victims, as well as other atrocities.

I really thought this book was excellent, but I found it difficult to read in one sitting. The sometimes painful subject matter, made me take this one in smaller doses. This is not said to discourge you, but I thought it was important to mention. The novel appears to be extremely well researched. The author, did an amazing job transporting the reader to Ho Chi Mihn City. The sites, smells, cruelty, and the hope and love are all easily felt by the reader. His efforts should be applauded by trying to inspire others to help make the world a better place, especially when it comes to helpless children. RECOMMENDED

The author plans to donate a portion of the sales from this book to The Blue Dragon Children's Foundation. You can read more about this here. You can also donate directly though the website.

About the author:

After graduating from Colorado College, John Shors lived for several years in Kyoto, Japan, where he taught English. On a shoestring budget, he later trekked across Asia, visiting ten countries and climbing the Himalayas. After returning to the United States, he became a newspaper reporter in his hometown, Des Moines, Iowa, winning several statewide awards in journalism. John then moved to Boulder, Colorado, and helped launch GroundFloor Media, now one of the state’s largest public relations firms. John has been lucky enough to spend much of his life abroad, traveling in Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, Africa, and North America. Now a full-time novelist, John spends his days writing and going on family outings with his wife, Allison, and their two young children, Sophie and Jack. John’s first two novels, Beneath a Marble Sky, and Beside a Burning Sea, have won multiple awards, and have been translated into more than twenty languages.


  1. Stories like this are so important. Even with all of the things wrong with our country, we are so fortunate here and it's important to remember not everyone is. This sounds like a book I need to read.

  2. This sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for your thoughtful review. :-)

  3. This sound like an important story. I like the fact that some of the proceeds help others. Thanks for a great review.

  4. I'm glad to hear that you liked the book and recommend it. I have it on my TBR shelf and was waiting anxiously to see what others had to say before I started reading.

  5. I'm not sure if I've read a story based in Vietnam. I'm very anxious to delve into this one. My uncle served in Vietnam and will not talk about this time of his life. We never really covered this in high school history class either. It's heartbreaking what innocent children have to endure and even though it is tough to read about, we must! Beautiful review!!

  6. My father served in Vietnam, and I took a Vietnam literature course in college, so this one sounds like something I should read. Thanks for the review.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  7. I really want to read this book, and am glad that you gave it a thumbs up. It looks like a really moving read. I also enjoyed Beneath a Marble Sky by the same author. If you haven't checked that one out, I think you might like it.

  8. I'm really looking forward to reading this one and hope to get to it soon. Like Anna's father, mine served in Vietnam and so am often curious to read literature that touches upon that war and country. Thank you for your great review, Diane!


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