All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Paradise Guest House – Ellen Sussman

on March 16, 2013

Paradise Guest HouseThe Paradise Guest House
Ellen Sussman
Ballantine Books
2013, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

For Jamie, her trip to Bali started out as a trip to paradise. As an adventure tour guide, she was on the island scoping out the possibility of expanding there for her employer and she’d brought along her Chilean boyfriend Miguel for the ride. One night, while eating dinner, Miguel asked her a question that she couldn’t answer the way he wanted to. Escaping from her and the humiliation of her rejection, Miguel stormed from the restaurant into the street and then a bar. Jamie followed him and then…. the bombs went off.

One year later, a still-damaged Jamie has returned to Bali for the first anniversary memorial, a guest of the government as they attempt to help the survivors and those who lost someone in the blasts, heal. Jamie was reluctant to return, she is still wracked by fear. For her, Bali isn’t a beautiful paradise, it’s a scene of fire, smoke, death and horror.

But Jamie is back in Bali looking for someone. Gabe, an American ex-pat who lives in Bali, saved her from a certain death after she tried to help Miguel. Not only that but he cared for her in the days after the terrible blasts and the two of them, both damaged in very different ways, were able to find a sort of peace with each other that they might not otherwise have been able to find. But she doesn’t have much to go on, other than his first name and occupation and the possibility that he may not even still be there or if he is, that he won’t even want to see her. But Jamie has returned to Bali looking for answers and this time she’s going to stay until she finds what she needs to help her on her journey of healing.

I was drawn to this book from the beginning because of the subject matter. As an Australian, we were very close to the Bali bombings – a large amount of the deaths were Australian tourists and many of the survivors were air lifted out to Australia in order for their burns and injuries to be treated here when Bali hospitals overflowed. They also lacked burns facilities, which were crucial in the days after the tragedy. I’ve never been to Bali but it’s a hugely popular tourist destination for young Aussies – it’s close, it’s cheap, it’s got good surf and a well-known party strip which was obviously where the bombings occurred for the maximum potential to kill and injure. I’ve never read any fiction revolving around the attack before.

Jamie is dealing with an awful lot – she’s back in Bali, the scene of unimaginable horrors for her and she also has feelings of guilt weighing upon her. If it wasn’t for her, she believes that someone would’ve been safe and she’s had to deal with that (not really very well). The book begins with Jamie arriving back in Bali and checking into her Bali-family run guesthouse and meeting her host, who lost his pregnant wife in the bombings as well. They form a strong friendship based in loss and his philosophical outlook and attempts to heal inspire Jamie. I loved the local characters in this book, the charm of the Bali natives really does shine through (as does their occasional shiftiness!). Then the book flashes back to the year previous, when Jamie was first in Bali with Miguel and how she came to be in that location when the bombs went off and also how she met Gabe and the days they spent together after the terrorist attack.

What should have been the strongest point of the book, was for me, the weakest. The scenes where Jamie and Gabe are rushing into a burning building to pull people out feel contrived. Neither of them suffer smoke inhalation or damage (Jamie even has a broken arm whilst she is doing this) and neither of them suffer any burns. The heroics seem a bit forced, like they were thrown together because they both were self-sacrificing. Gabe has experienced great loss and Jamie has too so perhaps they were not really caring if they lived or died but I didn’t really feel like that was a point being made. I expected to be moved by the scenes of the bombing but they didn’t have the urgency or the devastation that I thought it would. I found the scenes of the year anniversary memorial much more moving and the way in which some of the local’s beliefs in reincarnation had allowed them to try and move on, very beautiful. Gabe doesn’t even wonder about the mate with whom he was having dinner when the bomb went off, until days later! He has no idea if the guy even lived or died and then even when he does finally remember him, he makes no attempt to find out. I just….couldn’t really wrap my mind around that behaviour, although perhaps it is true of someone who has been caught in a tragedy. I don’t know, but just in reading it, it was very alienating.

I liked a lot about this book – I liked Jamie’s bravery at returning to a place that held so many memories for her, I liked the portrayal of what happened to Bali in the days and weeks after the bombings in terms of the tourism industry. I also really enjoyed the attempt that was made to show a different side of Bali, a less touristy and more private side. But the feelings and romance between the two main characters that sprang up out of the bombing I just couldn’t get behind.


Book #58 of 2013


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