Dragon House by John Shors:
I saw this exceptional novel as a story of redemption - a daughter promising her father to help heal some of the wounds left by a long, protracted war and a depressed and scarred Iraqi War veteran rescued from self destruction. Both travel to Vietnam to help street children.
I found the stories of people helping each other to heal, physically and mentally, very moving, and the conditions of abandoned street children heartrending. Shors' writing and descriptions of the Vietnamese environment are sharp, clear, and vivid.
In "Dragon House," two Vietnamese street children, forced into a life of begging by an opium addict, are befriended by the young American woman in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.
The American woman, Iris, has promised her dying father, a Vietnam veteran - to finish his dream of opening a center for homeless children. She takes with her to Vietnam a crippled Iraq War veteran, Noah Woods, who is suffering from physical and mental war wounds and about to give up on life. It takes some time for both to adjust to living in this very foreign city, but together they manage to navigate the pitfalls and obstacles to opening the Tam Tran Center for Street Children and meet people whom they help and who help them in turn.
Some of the characters include Minh and Mai, children who sleep in a basket underneath a bridge at night, and are forced to beg during the day. Qiu, a old grandmother struggles to help her terminally ill granddaughter. Sahn the policeman tries to enforce the law though suspicious of the activities of Iris and Noah, and their Vietnamese helper Thien.
John Shors on his travels and experience with street children:
"I spent many nights in Thailand playing Connect Four with a boy who in some ways inspired one of my characters in Dragon House. This boy was remarkable--smart, brave, and hard-working. I met hundreds of street children in Asia, and had wonderful conversations and interactions with them. I couldn't have been more impressed with the tenacity of these children."
The author's plan is to donate a portion of the proceeds from "Dragon House" to the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation in Vietnam, a support organization for children "in crisis" which also helps children get into school and away from life on the streets. Many thanks to the author for the opportunity of reviewing "Dragon House".
Publisher: NAL Trade, available September 1, 2009
(See my Interview with John Shors here or in the following post.)