Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

There's that old cliche about getting right back up on the horse after you fall off and surprisingly, it really does work on many things. But could you do it when the thing that you need to overcome is not small but truly horrible and terrifying, not just something you've built up to be scary in your own mind? What kind of bravery would it take then? For the main character in Ellen Sussman's novel The Paradise Guest House, the things she has to face are awful, shattering and beyond the normal ken but she is determined to face the demons that continue to haunt her and to heal.

Jamie Hyde is guide for an adventure travel company out of San Francisco. She climbs mountains, shoots rapids, and goes wherever traveling adreneline junkies want to be. She has few emotional ties aside from her dying boss, best friend Larson and she actively avoids the entanglements of heart and hearth. She was in Bali researching potential trips for the company when her world exploded in the blink of an eye in the 2002 nightclub bombings. As a survivor, her body has healed but she is still filled with guilt and grief and horror about the events of that terrible night. So just one year later, she is back in Bali for a healing ceremony arranged for both survivors and victims' families. She's come to not only face the horrors of that night, as she has explained to everyone who has asked, but also on a more private quest to find the stranger who saved her life and whom she cannot get out of her mind.

Jamie's host in Bali at the Paradise Guest House is Nyoman, a gentle Balinese man whose wife was a waitress at one of the clubs. If anyone can understand some of her sorrow and pain, he can. As Bali and the people there work to ease her guilt and grief, she starts her search for Gabe, an American ex-pat living in Bali after his own personal tragedy, the man who saved her life that fateful night but who she has only the scantest of information on: first name and occupation.  What Jamie's final outcome will be, if she will find acceptance and make peace with what happened both in the nightclub that night and with Gabe in the aftermath of the bombing, will depend greatly on his reception of her and on her ability to forgive herself. Jamie is on a journey, courageous and struggling, but her strength of spirit shines through, even despite her guilt and deep sadness.

The novel starts in 2003 but moves back to 2002 and the bombing and its immediate aftermath, before coming back to 2003 and Jamie's emotional quest. This allows the additional reasons behind Jamie's survivor's guilt over the bombing to be revealed slowly and effectively to the reader. It also allows the reader to get a sense of Gabe's motives for rushing into the burning building to save as many as he can before it collapses completely. And it explains why these two souls, so hurt and damaged even before the bombings, would cling to each other as to life rafts in the face of a world seemingly rent asunder in those days immediately following the arrival of terror on an island previously known for its paradise.

Sussman has written a beautiful travel novel, a gentle romance, and a quiet homage to the innocent place where a terrible event rocked the world. Touching on not only the famed beauty and spirituality of Bali, Sussman has also drawn a lovely picture of the people who live there, from Nyoman, grieving his wife and unborn child; to wily street child Bambang and his loyal dog; from Dewi, Nyoman's rebellious yet endearing niece; to Wayan, the local doctor who treated her after the bombing and who feels righteous anger over the second class treatment of the Balinese injured. She's portrayed the culture as welcoming and thoughtful, anxious for healing and moving forward. Jamie as a main character was complex and her baby steps toward opening herself up to the possibility of living and loving made her very appealing to read about. Gabe was a sympathetic character as well and together their confusion and hurt over the past as they explored their needs for the future, together or separately, was well handled. Their bonding after the nightmare quality of what they experienced together was understandable and very emotional but their connection the following year was perhaps a bit rushed. In the end though, the search for connection and the opening up to love and life was done beautifully and respectfully and the end of the story was spot on. The book was touching, serene, and a pleasure to read.

For more information about Ellen Sussman and the book check out her website, follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this sounds like an absolutely beautiful book. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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