Monday, April 8, 2013

The Paradise Guest House: Review and Giveaway

Published in 2013, The Paradise Guest House is the latest novel by Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons and On A Night Like This.  This book is based on true events, the horrific 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali.  In the book, the protagonist, Jamie Hyde, returns to Bali for the anniversary ceremony of the nightclub bombings which took over 200 lives, including the life of her boyfriend, Miguel, who had just proposed to her.  Although she survives, these bombings change her life in an instant. The vision of Bali as a paradise has been obliterated, replaced by devastation, suffering, and loss.

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).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, April 22.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 23.  Good luck! 

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.


  1. Sounds like a good read, Suko. Thanks for the giveaway.

  2. thanks for the wonderful giveaway and great review. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. Your brilliant review captured my interest. This novel would be unforgettable. Many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  4. This book sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing your review! I also follow via GFC. thewellreadredhead at gmail dot com.

  5. Definitely sounds like this book captures the mood and the place. I linked to the giveaway on my blog.

  6. That must have been fabulous if it kept you away from WwF! I'm excited to read it - I think it will be my next car audio.

  7. This sounds good Suko, especially if the author writes so vividly the setting comes to life. Great review! Impressive that it kept you away from Words with Friends :) I know how addictive that game

  8. This sounds so good. Great review!

  9. The book has such a serious and tragic backstory yet it seems like it is mostly a positive book. I do like it when authors do not shy away from the difficult aspects of life.

  10. This sounds like an interesting book, and you wrote such a nice review.

  11. Thanks for convincing me that this is in fact an easy to follow read as all to often novels that span the years, jumping between the decades, can be difficult to follow.

  12. Wow - this books sounds wonderful. I love the kind of novel that takes you away to another place. I don't know much about Bali or the bombings there. It sounds like a terrible time, yet interesting t learn about.

  13. Great review! This sounds fascinating

  14. I like your review, Suko... and the cover : a beautiful door to a new life, for the characters you describe ?

  15. Bali seems so exotic to me since I've never traveled in that part of the world. But the bombings ... how absolutely horrifying to live through that and lose people you love.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  16. Wow! It sounds like you really enjoyed this one. I love a book that takes me away to another place so I definitely will have to give this one a try! Great review :)

  17. I love the sound of this one, and so happy you enjoyed it. I do have the eGalley.

  18. This sounds like a fantastic book. I love it when an author sets the scene so well you feel like you've really been there. Great review, as always!


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