The Paradise Guest House, by Ellen Sussman.
For the last year, she played out every scenario in her mind: He would listen to her, he would rage, he would cry, he would hate her or love her. But he never walked away. - from The Paradise Guest House -
At 23:05 Central Indonesian Time (15:05 UTC) on 12 October 2002, a suicide bomber entered Paddy's Pub in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali. He detonated the explosive device inside his backpack and customers immediately fled into the street where, twenty seconds later, a second bomb exploded just outside the Sari Club, located across the street from Paddy's Pub. Two hundred and two people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesian, 27 Britons, 7 Americans and 5 Swedish citizens) were killed and 240 people were injured. Later, members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamist group, were convicted for their role in the bombing. Osama Bin Laden stated that the Bali bombings were in direct retaliation for Indonesia's support of the United States' war on terror and Australia's role in the liberation of East Timor.
Ellen Sussman has set her novel, The Paradise Guest House, against the backdrop of these horrifying events. Jamie is an American adventure guide who has survived the blasts and finds herself, a year later, returning to Bali for a one year memorial event. But the ceremony is only part of the reason she has decided to go back to the a place which still haunts her. Jamie hopes to find the man who saved her life, a man named Gabe who was an American ex-pat living in Bali and working as a teacher. What unfolds is a gentle story of love, forgiveness, and the difficult road to healing after unspeakable loss.
The Paradise Guest House is beautifully crafted. Sussman's descriptions of Bali -- its lush jungles, sudden rainstorms, and spiritual people -- deliver the reader into the heart of the island. The characters are well-developed and include Jamie who lost her lover in the bombing and is looking for closure; Gabe who carries his own deep loss of a son and marriage and wants a new life on Bali; Nyoman, a local man whose wife perished in the bombing; and BamBang, a street child with a tendency towards theft. All the characters have had loss and are journeying towards recovery.
Sussman's novel is a meditation of sorts on grief and our connection to others. It captures the shock and devastation post-trauma, and the slow, often difficult, path towards healing. The book is also, at its heart, a love story. Despite the underlying sadness which echoes through the narrative, there is the bright light of hope, a glimpse of something better for these characters who stole my heart.
Readers who enjoy character driven novels with gorgeous writing will want to read The Paradise Guest House in one big gulp. I sped through this novel, fully immersing myself in its sensuous prose.
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 : Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".