The Paradise Guest House is divided into three parts, and is easy to follow. In Part One (2003), Jamie Hyde, 32, a tourism guide for Global Adventures, returns to Bali from Berkeley, ostensibly for an anniversary ceremony; she also hopes to see the man who rescued and helped her after the bombings, Gabe Winters. During her return trip, she stays at the picturesque Paradise Guest House in Ubud, which is run by a handsome native, Nyoman, who lost his wife in the bombings (he is comforted, somewhat, by the idea that his unborn child will have her soul). Outside on the street, Jamie meets a boy, Bambang, who walks around with his dog, Tuk Tuk. Bambang needs a job to survive and insists that he will help Jamie. Although she is suspicious of the boy, she does accept his help.
This book is all about the setting, and all about the characters. The setting is beautiful--it's Bali, after all--and excluding the site of the bombings, the locale is altogether stunning, lush, tropical, and exotic. Due to the author's tremendous talent, I traveled to Bali, vicariously. I was there. I also met the same people as Jamie did, Nyoman, Bambang, Gabe, Dewi, and others. I loved how quickly and convincingly the main characters--Jamie, Nyoman, Bambang, and Gabe--sprang to life, and secondary characters are also well depicted. (Larson, Jamie's boss and best friend, is kind of between a main character and a secondary character, whereas I saw Miguel, Jamie's deceased boyfriend, Dewi, Nyoman's niece, Rose, Jamie's mom, and Molly, Gabe's sister, as secondary characters.) The feelings of the characters seem authentic and are understandable throughout the story. Jamie experiences a lot of guilt because Miguel died in the bombings. Larson, who has pancreatic cancer, feels guilty because he sent Jamie to Bali on a job assignment. The book led me to consider a few things. How do we reconcile our true feelings with what others want to hear? How do we heal after such a traumatic event?
Part Two (2002) goes back in time, and focuses on Gabe, and his meeting with Jamie after the bombings, when he rescues her and helps her to recover from her physical wounds. Gabe has moved to Bali to start a new life for himself as a teacher in Ubud, because his 4-year-old son, Ethan, has died of spinal meningitis, and his wife, Heather, leaves him subsequently. Part Two also features the brief yet intense romance between Gabe and Jamie. (Des'ree sings that "love will save the day". Will it save Jamie and Gabe?) This book is a poignant and powerful love story, about romantic love, familial love, love of place, and love of life. Part Three (2003) is what happens when Jamie and Gabe meet again, in Bali. Have they both healed, physically and emotionally, at least in part, from the tragic events and loss in their lives? Do they belong together?
|The Bali bombing memorial, courtesy of Wikipedia|
The Paradise Guest House is a stirring and well-crafted novel. I raced through this book--not to get it read, but because it captured my whole attention, immediately (no texting or playing Words with Friends on the side). The author spent a month in Bali researching the bombings, and met with many survivors and widows who shared their stories. Ellen Sussman's writing seems effortless and flows beautifully. Through her finesse with words, the author bestows this novel with honesty, intelligence, and liberal amounts of humor (for example, Jamie wishes her mother had "turned cougar", rather than marrying a relic). The book inspired me to Google "Bali", and I viewed stunning pictures online, some of actual, appealing guest houses for travelers. Ellen Sussman is a supremely gifted writer, and although the bombings described in this book are unspeakably awful, I was genuinely riveted by The Paradise Guest House. I'd definitely like to read more of this author's work.
Wonderful news! Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, is generously offering a copy of The Paradise Guest House as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).
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Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advance reader's edition of The Paradise Guest House (which is why I haven't quoted from the book). For more reviews of this novel, please visit the other stops on TLC's book tour of The Paradise Guest House.