Dragon House by John Shors is a book that I can honestly say has affected me. The story focuses a lot on the street children in Vietnam and I found even when I put this book down in between reading it that I thought of these children. Even now after finishing it these children are still on my mind. This novel really tugged at my heart; it horrified me to learn what these street children live through and yet to know there are people in the world trying to help them gives hope as well. To me, this is a mark of a very good novel – a book that grabs you and doesn’t let go and leaves you feeling as though you’ve experienced something that changes you in some way.
The story begins with Iris, sitting in the hospital with her father who is dying. They are talking about the past and regrets. One thing that Iris’ father regrets is not finishing the center for street children that he was building in Vietnam. Iris tells him before he passes that she will travel there and bring his dream to life; she will finish the center. Iris’ father had experienced the war firsthand and suffered from it; the center was his way of giving back. As a child Iris hadn’t gotten a lot of emotional support from her father although she believes he loved her. Traveling to complete the center is a way of healing for Iris as well, a way to become closer to her father even in his death.
Iris leaves for Vietnam with an old childhood friend, Noah, who is an Iraqi war veteran himself and been disabled by it, losing a leg. He is bitter and angry and wondering what life could ever possibly hold for him again. Noah is living life on pain pills and booze and only going to Vietnam with Iris to please his mother. They arrive in Vietnam and Iris is surprised to find that her father had named the center after her; she had never known this. She sees all he has done and all that needs to be done but in time she really realizes his dream and believes in it for herself too. What her father wanted to do for these street children was amazing and she felt that need to do the same now.
I think what I loved about this book the most was how connected I felt with the characters and the place. The way that John Shors describes Vietnam really makes you feel as though you are there on the busy streets or trying to maneuver around on the roads on a scooter. You can see vividly in your mind the bridges that street children live under or the hovels that others are surviving in and it just completely grips your heart. Yet on the other side of the coin you can also see the beauty of Vietnam and this is what struck me as well. How if you look, you can always find a small bit of beauty in something whether it be the clouds in a blue sky or a rainbow.
There isn’t a main character that I didn’t like; Iris is a kind and caring woman; she truly cares about what happens to these children. Noah, who eventually finds a way out of his fog learns that he can still love and be loved. The street people who just take your breath away like Qui and Tam. Qui is Tam’s grandmother and the love that they have for each other was a beautiful thing to read about. Mai and Minh, two street children who have been horribly abused throughout their lives and forced to work for a cruel man are two children you won’t soon forget. Then there is Thien, who was an assistant to Iris’ father and stayed on to help Iris. With her quiet strength, she really brings everyone together and you could literally feel her hope and positive outlook through the words on the page. She may not have had much but she felt lucky to have what she did. It makes you sit back and look at all you have sometimes and wonder why you may not be happy when others in countries like this can be happy with so much less.
I had so many passages that I read and reread but here are a few of my more favorite ones…
- ‘Mai understood because she also knew how to place herself in the company of others, to pretend that she inhabited other worlds. Minh was better at the game, of course. But she still played, still imagined that she walked among schoolgirls, ate pho on the street with her father, read a book while waiting for her mother at the market. Mai, like Minh, played the game because it transported her from a place of hunger and pain, weariness and fear. In the pretend worlds she didn’t have to worry whether or not Minh would win, whether Loc would beat them, whether she’d have to someday sell herself to survive. In these worlds she went to school, Minh was her brother, and she was loved and protected by those who had given her life. (pg 35, eBook edition)
- ‘It wasn’t just happiness, or love, or contentment. It was a sense that the human spirit wanted to soar. Despite all the suffering, pain, betrayal, and ugliness of life, the human spirit couldn’t be easily beaten, easily caged. (pg 286, eBook edition)
While Dragon House is difficult to read at times, it also offers us hope. Hope that centers such as these will be built and will help street children to build a life where they can be normal kids and have a life that isn’t full of pain. John Shors is planning to donate some of the funds generated by the sale of Dragon House to an organization called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. This is a group that works with children in crisis throughout Vietnam. It offers them this chance at a different life than they’ve been dealt so far. Be sure to visit John Shor’s website to learn more about him, his books and this charity.
I would absolutely recommend Dragon House, not only because it transports you to another world but it addresses an important issue which is the plight of many homeless children throughout our countries. John Shors has brought a great story to life in Dragon House and I certainly look forward to reading more from him. You can purchase Dragon House here in the US and here in Canada.
My thanks… to Diane and the author John Shors who sent me my review copy of Dragon House for his blog Tour but I did actually purchase my own eBook copy after reading that part of the proceeds would go to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.