Friday, November 16, 2012
REVIEW: The Book of Jonas, by Stephen Dau
The Book of Jonas is a lot of things. It's a coming of age story, a war story, and a story about coming to terms with your past and your secrets. It's also about letting them go, and letting go of the people who have made you who you are, even as you know they will stay with you forever.
Jonas is a teenage boy from an unnamed Muslim country, adopted by an American couple. His new family is well-meaning but cannot understand him or the difficulty he has assimilating into American life. He tries to make friends, fit in with other kids from his part of the world, kids who share his religion and culture to some degree but who remain nonetheless apart from him.
He's deeply traumatized by his last experiences in his own country, including the death of his family and the death of an American soldier, Christopher Henderson, who saved his life. He relives the story of the night the American died as well as the events leading to his death as he tells it to a court-appointed counselor. We also learn the story of Christopher's mother, transformed by her son's death into an unwitting activist for other bereaved military parents, and we see what happens when their two paths intersect.
I found The Book of Jonas to be a very quick and very absorbing read. Very of-the-moment in subject matter and thought-provoking as well, it's an unusual entry into recent war literature in that it considers the fates of those left behind the wake of American war. Dau does not demonize the military or its servicemen, but rather focuses on ordinary people and the tangential effects of battle, far outside the battlefield itself. If you've been reading books like The Yellow Birds or The Watch, you'll want to add The Book of Jonas to your pile as well.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.