Excerpt from The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book of Jonas

by Stephen Dau

The Book of Jonas
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 272 pages
    Feb 2013, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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Print Excerpt

"Where did you get that," the woman beside him had asked.

"I fell off a mountain," he had said.

He is beginning to feel claustrophobic in the sealed, pressurized tube. He is tall, constantly mistaken for being older than he is, and his knees knock into the back of the seat in front of him. He can’t get comfortable, can’t stretch out, and for a moment he fights off a wave of panic. He is surrounded by plastic and metal, which confine him to a predetermined form, a standard that does not comfortably fit him. He pushes his knees again into the back of the seat in front of him, and its occupant shifts, pushing back against him in a kind of warning.

Eventually, a bell dings, and he feels a sinking sensation in his stomach and legs as the plane begins its descent. He fights off another wave of nausea as he folds up his tray table and is told by two different flight attendants to incline his seat. He explains, in nearly panicky tones, that it is broken and that it will not incline, and after this explanation he is left alone.

The ground rises up to meet him, and he feels himself jolted forward, pushes himself into the back of his chair as the plane slows forcefully. When the plane turns from the runway, the gently rolling landscape scrolls past his window like a diorama. How lush, how green it looks! Ivy climbing the massive, broad-leafed trees, the atmosphere so thick with humidity that he can see it. And then before he realizes, the plane has rolled up to the gate, and there is a rush for the overhead luggage, and a wafting of heavy, wet air as the door is opened, and they are in the aisles, pushing forward, and he has trouble getting his feet underneath him, trips on a blanket someone has left on the floor, grabs a seat back for support, and it is happening so fast he can’t believe it, and he stumbles off the plane and into his new world.


The last time he saw his village he was five thousand feet above it.

Sometimes it comes back to him at a word, or a sound, or a scent, and he can see the faint trace of smoke rising toward him like a prayer. From this height he can see the village’s broken shell, its careful, jigsaw delineations—yards and orchards and streets—scratched and blurred like a sand castle set upon by a toddler.

Paul tells him that he tends to dissociate.

Jonas goes to see Paul once a week, as he has done since the high school became concerned that he might have been suffering from the results of something traumatic, something they couldn’t handle. They suggested that he go see Paul because Paul was someone who knew about these things. Paul had experience. Paul could help him.

Actually, it was slightly more than a suggestion. "We can get a court order," they said, "but we prefer you go voluntarily."

They have been meeting regularly ever since.

During these meetings, they talk about the state of his mental health, which Paul has called, on more than one occasion, "pretty good." Paul has bushy hair and a goatee, and he looks a little bit like a young Karl Marx, an effect amplified by his tendency to explain things in the somewhat dry tones of an economics professor.

"Dissociation is a normal reaction," says Paul. "It’s a defense mechanism. And given the circumstances, a certain amount of mental decompensation is probably also to be expected." Paul doesn’t seem to understand that this is gibberish until that fact is pointed out to him, and when it is, he tries to make a simplified explanation.

"I know it can feel like touching a hot stove," he says. "Your reflex is to pull your hand away. Your psyche is trying to stem the pain. But to deal with it, to get past it, eventually you are going to have to leave your hand on the stove awhile."

Excerpted from The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau. Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Dau. Excerpted by permission of Blue Rider Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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