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The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

The Paradise Guest HouseThe Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As is usual, I received this book for nothing from a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kindness my candid thoughts follow.

A year ago, our protagonist was witness to the Bali nightclub bombings. Now she’s returning to the country to pay her respects and find the little piece of herself that she left behind.

This book really defies easy categorization (travelogue? romance? historical novel? escapism?) but at its heart it’s an allegory of guilt, grief and loss. Our heroine not only lost her friend when the bombs ripped apart the building she was sitting in but also her piece of mind and sense of self. In “The Paradise Guest House” we find a woman who is struggling to put her life back together after she discovers that bombs tear apart more than buildings.

From a writing standpoint this book is smooth as silk. I’m always the first to pick at an author’s writing but Sussman is no slouch at stringing words together. Her words form an uncannily vivid picture in the reader’s mind and if you read the acknowledgements it’s not hard to see why. She spent a month on site researching the country and talking to locals. I suspect it’s no coincidence that some of the names of her characters also appear in the list of people to whom she is thankful. The author has very skillfully put a month of her life to paper.

Topically, Sussman does a grand job of taking us to a place and time that we don’t tend to think about very much and letting us get a flavor for not only the country but the people in it from the locals who have been there all their lives to the imports who just decided there was no reason to leave. Geographically speaking, if this comes out as a movie it’ll be one of those you go to just for the breathtaking panoramas.

In summary, our author has given us a great view not only into the far-off land of Bali but also into the souls of her complex and skillfully portrayed characters. Her descriptive powers are almost Dickensian in their breadth and depth. As for the question of a category for this book, it really is all of the above: some adventure, some romance, some far-off foreign climes but mostly it’s about a woman who has lost something and has retraced her steps to find it again.

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