Dragon House by John Shors

“Iris felt as if a unique cultural experience occurred on the back of scooters.  She reflected that in America, people drove their cars and rarely even opened their windows.  Within cars people tended to be isolated, listening to the radio or maybe talking on the phone to a friend.  Cars were people’s places of refuge, highly personalized sanctuaries within which Americans often sought escape.  Driving a scooter in Vietnam was a completely different experience.  In addition to the ease of conversation, the lack of lanes and laws almost mandated that people acted in cooperation.  Drivers didn’t cut one another off or blast their horns.  Though they drove quickly, always looking for the fastest route, if an old woman was trying to cross an impossibly busy street, people braked and weaved around her without a second glance.”  (Page 184 of ARC)

Iris is just one of the main characters in John Shors’ Dragon House and she’s had a tough childhood with a mostly absent Vietnam veteran father.  Noah, her childhood friend and also a veteran but of the Iraq War, accompanies her to Vietnam as Iris strives to fulfill her father’s dream.  Through a shifting narrative, readers are shown glimpses of what it means to live on the streets of Vietnam as orphan children with Mia and Minh or as a grandmother Qui raising her leukemia-ridden granddaughter Tam by selling books to American tourists.  Dragon House examines how these cultures are misunderstood on both sides and how they clash with one another even in times of peace.  Shors deftly mixes sadness with hope to reveal the beauty beneath the grime and compassion inherent in humanity.

“Iris thought about her father, about how he also came home shattered from a war that wasn’t of his making.  A marriage and a daughter hadn’t saved him from his demons.  Why would Saigon save Noah? Though Iris was unsure, she knew what her father would say, knew he’d want her to bring Noah.”  (Page 13 of ARC)

Readers will be blown away by the vivid descriptions of Vietnam and the evolution of the novel’s main characters as they find themselves in a foreign land and repurpose their lives to meet the needs of others and fulfill a dream.  Shors uses description in a way that conveys deep emotional scarring and how that damage is repaired over time.  

“The city was a kaleidoscope of old versus new, memories versus ideas, stone versus chrome.”  (Page 15 of ARC) 

Mia and Minh, who sell fans and gamble with tourists over games of Connect Four, display strength amidst adversity, but like Noah, even the strongest of us have our breaking points.  Qui and Tam also display significant strength.  In a way these characters offset the deep desolation felt by Noah because they continue to survive and hope, while Noah is steeped in blackness and hopelessness, finding solace in whiskey and pain pills.  There is more going on in Dragon House than meets the eye with Iris and Noah preparing a children’s center for opening and these children living on the streets.  Readers will be absorbed in Shors’ world and turn the pages hoping for the best resolution possible.

If you missed my interview with John Shors and the giveaway for Dragon House, please check it out.

John Shors’ novel would make an excellent gift for the holidays for the readers among your family and friends, and a portion of the proceeds from book sales are shared with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (click for more details).  Also, check out this write up in the Denver Post about the charity.

FTC Disclosure:  I want to thank John Shors for providing me with a free copy of Dragon House for review.  Also, thanks to Diane Saarinen of Book Blog Tour Guide for setting up the blog tour. Clicking on images or titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase required.