Monday, July 23, 2012

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Published March 2012 by Blue Rider Press, Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

As a boy, Younis suffered the bombing of his village, the deaths of his entire family. As an orphan, he is brought to the United States by an aide society where he is raised by a family who can't begin to grasp what the young man (now Jonas) has been through nor what he needs to assimilate in a new culture.

With the help of a counselor, Paul, Jonas begins to explore the truth of what happened to him. But is what's in his head his memory or what he wants his memory to be? And what is the truth about Christopher, the American soldier who came to his aid and whose mother has become a crusader for all of the parents who don't know what has happened to their children in duty to their country?

Dau moves back and forth in time and place with entries from Christopher's diary interspersed. This can be tricky to make work; it's easy to get confused and things can get muddled. But in Dau's capable hands, this style pulled me through the book. The Book of Jonas engaged both my mind and emotions with an ending that, literally, made me gasp.

Dau thoroughly explores the conundrum that is war - who is right, who is wrong, what is the truth. Can the truth ever be known? Can memory be trusted?
"Occasionally Jonas hears the voice of this savior. It comes to him when he is unable to turn his thoughts to anything else. The voice he hears is gentle and deep. When he remembers it, he tries to get it right, tries to match the words exactly, but has the familiar feeling that he is adding and subtracting, substituting what should have been said for what he fails to remember accurately. What should have been said. What he fails to remember. He is haunted by both."

In The Book of Jonas nothing is black and white. The book is full of symbolism but Dau never uses it to hit the reader over the head with the meaning. Neither is it so subtle that it's easily missed, ensuring that Dau's message is not lost.

"This is not a rare occurrence, this penetration of solid rock by molten rock under pressure. It happens all the time. Deep in the earth, it is happening right now. Stones like this are not scarce. ... The invasion, the pressure. The magma has exploited the injured rock, and has made it beautiful."

I highly recommend this book for those who are looking for a book that will really make you think, a book that will stay with you a long time.

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