Summary and book reviews of The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

The Book of Jonas

by Stephen Dau

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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About this Book

Book Summary

An exceptional debut novel about a young Muslim war orphan whose family is killed in a military operation gone wrong, and the American soldier to whom his fate, and survival, is bound.

Jonas is fifteen when his family is killed during an errant U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. With the help of an international relief organization, he is sent to America, where he struggles to assimilate - foster family, school, a first love. Eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, Christopher Henderson, responsible for saving his life on the tragic night in question. Christopher's mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the raid in which Jonas' village was destroyed. When Jonas meets Rose, a shocking and painful secret gradually surfaces from the past, and builds to a shattering conclusion that haunts long after the final page. Told in spare, evocative prose, The Book of Jonas is about memory, about the terrible choices made during war, and about what happens when foreign disaster appears at our own doorstep. It is a rare and virtuosic novel from an exciting new writer to watch.

1

What is it like to lose everything? Younis was first asked this question by a well-meaning development worker, a friendly young man whose specialty was working in war zones. They sat across from each other in cheap plastic chairs beside a bomb-scarred house that served temporarily as a hospital. Just for a chat, he had been told. Just to see if he needed help, to see if he could be helped.

"It must be so difficult," said the man, whose face was serene, "to wake up one morning and see that life as you knew it has ended, that so much has been destroyed."

Despite his youth, Younis sensed immediately that the man was trying to get him to do something dangerous. His first instinct was to play it off, to make a grim joke of it—the house was getting old anyway; destruction as a form of camouflage; at least now we don’t have to maintain the roof—anything to deflect the course of the inquiry.

But this would not do, he sensed, not with this man who sat...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The narrative of The Book of Jonas proceeds in short chapters, jump-cuts between Jonas's present life, his past, Christopher's journal entries, his interactions with his therapist, and chapters devoted to Rose's efforts on behalf of the families of soldiers missing in action. What is the effect of this layering of different perspectives and time frames? How would the novel have been different if told in a continuous, chronological, single point-of-view narrative?
  2. What strikes the newly transplanted Jonas most strongly about American culture and his host family in particular? How is Jonas treated at school? What does Jonas's outsider perspective reveal about aspects of American culture and family life that most of us ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Book of Jonas is a great combination of emotional drama and compelling mystery. Though I’ve never been in the situations Stephen Dau describes, every word rings true emotionally.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

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Media Reviews

The Boston Globe

Dau's riffs on the young man's life recall the dense beauty of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. Like that book, [The Book of Jonas] is a tale obsessed with the way war can fracture memory and cauterize the place where love can begin....If only our news had such radical belief in the power of empathy.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Rich with symbolism, marvelously descriptive in language...Dau's novel offers deeply resonating truths about war and culture, about family and loss that only art can reveal. A literary tour de force.

Booklist

Starred Review. The toll that war exacts has seldom been demonstrated more vividly in fiction than in this tale... An essential addition to the literature of war.

Author Blurb Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo
Stephen Dau writes with remarkable precision, vitality and honesty.

Author Blurb Marisa Silver, author of The God of War
This is an utterly riveting debut.

Reader Reviews

Louise J

Powerful
The Book of Jonas is a compelling novel that describes the human cost of war and the long-lasting effects on the human mind. Adjusting to his new life in America proves more difficult than Jonas originally thought. Mandated to see a therapist, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Refugees in the United States

The 1951 Refugee Convention which established the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, defines a refugee as someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." While Jonas in The Book of Jonas, does not fit this definition exactly, he was indeed seeking refuge in the United States from the fighting that killed his family, and he could not safely stay in his home country. Once in the United States, Jonas makes friends with other refugees - a sub-culture of people running from...

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