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The Book of Jonasby Stephen Dau
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In his debut novel, Dau chronicles the human cost of war with the alternating stories of Jonas, a teenager who loses his family in an American raid on an unnamed Muslim country; Christopher, a soldier involved in the attack and since MIA; and Rose, Christopher's mother, a woman dedicated to discovering what happened to her son. After the brutal attack on his village, an aid agency sends Jonas to live with a football-loving family in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he attends high school. After Jonas assaults another student, he begins seeing a court-ordered counselor specializing in PTSD. In time, Jonas reveals his connection to Christopher, claiming that without the soldier he 'probably would not have survived,' but evading other questions about the extent of their relationship. Short, sometimes contrived chapters moving between Jonas, Christopher, and Rose propel the novel quickly through time toward the truth about the attack. Intriguing characters reveal the effects of war on both victim and victimizer, and raise important questions about the emotional implications of modern warfare. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Dau sketches Jonas brilliantly, empathetically, writing with spare, clear language in the third person, a point of view encompassing the distance necessary for emotional clarity. 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." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"That the human cost of war includes not only those who die but also those whose fate it is to live unhinged from all that they know is the truth at the heart of The Book of Jonas. In elegant, pitch-perfect prose, Dau charts the paths of three such displaced persons with a restraint that only heightens their emotional turmoil. Jonas himself is an unforgettable character through whose eyes we see the intricacies of war's deceptions. This is an utterly riveting debut." Marisa Silver, author of The God of War, Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist
"A powerful and stunning debut. The Book of Jonas is a deeply moving story of the human cost of conflict and the ways in which we never really leave the worst moments of our lives. Stephen Dau writes with remarkable precision, vitality and honesty." Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo
"The Book of Jonas is a vivid portrait of a distant war we might scarcely be able to imagine. It challenges our assumptions about the survivors of war, and about guilt, justice, and memory. This is first rate, original, powerful storytelling." Jean Thompson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Year We Left Home
"This is first rate, original, powerful storytelling." Jean Thompson, National Book Award finalist and author of The Year We Left Home
"The artfully crafted story zeroes in on those seconds when decisions are made, sometimes with terrifying consequences." Kathleen Daley, The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)
"Dau does a beautiful job of creating tales shrouded in mystery, filled with pain and suffering … A modern, Citizen Kane like morality play about war, death, ordinary people, hope and forgiveness." Shelf Awareness
“A humane and unforgettable portrayal of the lives behind those casualty counts.…Dau beautifully addresses a need to emotionally engage with a war that has been going on for 10 years but that so often feels remote and unreal.…It is the first [novel of 2012] to feel genuinely important. Wall Street Journal
“Dau creates a disturbing portrayal of war as it destroys ideals and innocence and makes victims of civilians and soldiers alike. The novel is composed in a way that’s similar to how a painter creates with watercolors: with delicate, barely substantive layers that blend together to reveal depth, nuance, and meaning…Dau demonstrates the tragic paradoxes of war in this brilliant and deceptively simple novel that will provide ample discussion for high school classes studying Middle East conflicts.” School Library Journal
“In moments, 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.” John Freeman, The Boston Globe
About the Author
Stephen Dau is from Western Pennsylvania and lives in Brussels. He worked for ten years in post-war reconstruction and international development prior to studying creative writing, at Johns Hopkins University and Bennington, where he received an MFA. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on MSNBC, and elsewhere. The Book of Jonas is his first novel.
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