John Shors treads carefully on the uncomfortable topics of today’s society in his novel “Dragon House.”
War, poverty and homelessness: These topics are often pushed under the rug in everyday life. Someone might see a homeless person on the corner, but chances are when the homeless person is out of sight they are also out of mind. The readiness to dismiss the hardships of the world is not something that most people would like to admit or even talk about.
John Shors is not one to back down on topics that others may balk at. His novel “Dragon House” examines the lives of war veterans and street children in Vietnam. The novel follows Iris and Noah, childhood friends who have been changed dramatically by war, as they travel to Vietnam to open a safe haven for street children.
Iris, the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran, saw how war can scar men for decades. Noah, an Iraqi war veteran who lost his leg to a roadside bomb, experiences the damage firsthand. As Iris and Noah work on preparing the center, Noah bonds with a young boy named Minh, who is missing a hand. The boy, a wizard at Connect Four, cannot speak and he begs with a girl named Mai. Both children manage to remain upbeat even though their lives are far from picture-perfect. With the help of these children Noah begins to heal from the multitude of wounds war has left him with.
Shors portrays the life of the destitute in Vietnam through descriptions that rival paintings. The slums where the homeless beg for their suppers and the hotels where tourists live in luxury are given equal weight by Shors.
Although “Dragon House” deals with uncomfortable topics, the reader isn’t forced to come face to face with them all at once. The reader is allowed to form his or her own opinions over the course of the novel, a refreshing change from books that have a clear agenda in mind. By setting up the characters in different threads and contrasting their circumstances, Shors’ allows the reader time to understand each individual situation before drawing all the threads together into one coherent weave.
Because the characters are set up in separate story lines, the reader may have trouble discerning a distinct main character. However, as the novel progresses this lack of a main character doesn’t detract from the plot. Instead, the main character that emerges is not one distinct person, but rather the human condition. The way individuals interact and care for each other is the focus of the novel.
These interactions can range from cruel, such as when an opium addict makes children beg to feed his habit, to sincerely touching, like when the grandmother carries her Leukemia-stricken granddaughter to and from the market where they beg. The reality of these relationships is created through descriptions so vivid and clear that they may draw tears from the reader at various points in the story.
“Dragon House” is a book to cry and smile over, but most of all it is designed to make the reader think about the human spirit, the way we react to things in our lives and how many may take their situations for granted.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ana Faria at Ana.firstname.lastname@example.org.