When Iris’s father dies she promises him him that she will travel to Vietnam to finish work on plans that he had to open a center for street children. Though at the time her primary motivation is to comfort a dying man with whom she has had a troubled relationship, Iris ultimately decides that she will go for a month to ensure that the center does indeed open.
Before Iris can leave for Vietnam, she receives a visit from the mother of a childhood friend, Noah, who has become disabled in the Iraq War and has been despondent and abusing alcohol for months. His mother is convinced that Iris taking her son with her to Vietnam is the only way to save his life. Iris is skeptical but she agrees that Noah can come along. Neither is prepared for the sights that they will see nor the experiences that they will have.
As I was reading this novel I was immediately taken with the wonderfully vivid descriptions of the city of Vietnam. I really felt as if I was on the street with all of the tourists, dodging the scooters, smelling the food, and seeing the people wearing the masks that enable them to have some protection from the horrible pollution caused by all of the traffic and congestion. The wonders of the city as well as the poverty had me in awe and I found myself alternately smiling or wrinkling my nose up in response to scenes in the novel.
Shors’ characterizations are just as moving as his scenic and atmospheric descriptions and even though the painful pasts of Iris and Noah are explored in some detail I was equally interested in the touching stories of Mai and Minh, the two street children who for so long only, had each other; Qui and Tam, the grandmother and her sickly granddaughter whose mother has abandoned her; Thien, Iris’ father’s cheerful, helpful and resourceful assistant; and Sahn, the crotchety old police officer trying to hide that he is disabled, and come to terms with the fact that the same Americans whom he killed and were the enemy in the Vietnam war are the same people who are now coming to help and rebuild in the country.
I loved getting to see all of these characters meet and interact and the subtle influences that they had on each other. There were lots of interesting mirror images within the novel as both Sahn and Noah have to come to terms with being war veterans along with the demons that haunt them from the war, then there is the way that Iris and Thien have different reactions to Noah and his drinking, and that Noah and Minh are similarly disabled. I received a full and moving picture of the lives of the less fortunate in Vietnam and the dangers that they face and I have to admit to shedding a few tears in places because I was so taken by the incidents in the characters’ lives.
In addition there is a little adventure and mystery here as they face dangerous setbacks in opening the center. It had me wondering until the very end as to whether everything would work out for the characters I had come to love. Though, Loc, the villain in the story struck me as a little wooden, he wasn’t a major hindrance in what was an informative and thoughtful novel. I am looking forward to reading more from John Shors.
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FTC Disclosure – I am an Amazon Associate. Review copy provided by the author.