The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

the book of jonas

When I finish a book that just completely perplexes me – one where I have no idea quite what happened or what to think about the plot or ending – I run right to Amazon and look at the reviews to see if I’m alone.

The Book of Jonas was one of those books that sent me straight to read other reviews.

And. . . . I apparently am alone on this one. It had only five reviews on Amazon, four of which were five stars and one with a three star.

Feeling a little desperate, I went to Goodreads, where there were 88 reviews. But same story here: seventy-three of which were four or five star ratings. Everyone talked about how brilliant this book was, how amazing, how deep, and sophisticated it was.

I feel like an idiot.

It’s not that I didn’t like The Book of Jonas, it’s that I just feel like I didn’t get it.

the book of jonas by stephen dau

It’s the story of a boy, Jonas, from a Middle Eastern country (presumably Iraq) where his village is destroyed in a US military raid. He survives and comes to America where his transition isn’t very smooth (read: eventual serious alcoholism). He’s going to therapy and there, his therapist, Paul, tries to help him work through what happened to him and how he survived.

And it turns out the reason he survived is due to an American soldier who is now missing and the soldier’s mother is determined to find out what happened.

The book jumps around between Jonas’ present in America and past in Iraq and also some diary entries from the American solider (although it took me ages to pick up that that’s what they were).

If you’ve read The Book of Jonas (which is getting phenomenal professional reviews as well as the aforementioned excellent reader reviews), would you please email me and explain what in the world happened at the end of this book?

I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club and you can read other reviews and discussions at BlogHer. I am paid for my participation in the BlogHer Book Club, but I choose which books to read and my reviews are strictly my own opinions. If I think a book is terrible, I’ll say so. If I rave about a book, it’s because it’s one I’d give to Kayla or my mom.

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  1. Seriously, "not getting" a book that so many other people did doesn't make you stupid and I know exactly that feeling. Makes you feel like you kind of arrived late to a party or wasn't invited at all, right?

    I felt that way when I read Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" which I happened to think was nonsensical pretentious posturing undeveloped nonsense – but it's a classic that was turned into a musical, and I'm over at my blog going, "DON'T YOU CARE THAT THIS BOOK DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE?"

    There's no universally-liked book, so do sweat it!

  2. I think I'm really glad not to have done that one! I think I'd have skipped it anyway as it doesn't even seem remotely interesting to me.

  3. It's the emperor's suit, frankly. I know too many people who, when confronted with something they don't understand either hate it or LERVE it. They hate it because it makes them feel stupid — or the LERVE it to prove to everyone else that — SEE! — they're not stupid.

    Now, it could be that these folks really did get it — that you missed _something_ in the book that made it all come together. Or it could be that it was written to confuse.

    I'm in the middle of writing a novel that could confuse the hell out of people if I don't do my job correctly — there's a lot of flashing back to events in the near and distant past; quick switching between characters and perspectives; and several story lines.

    But since I'm a storyteller, and not merely a writer or "auteur", it's my JOB to make sure most people get it. It takes a lot of work, though. I just hope that, when I'm done, there are more people who lose themselves in the prose than simply get lost.

    I can't write for everyone … but the life of a story is its reader. So if I love my story I'll want to maximize its readership (without sacrificing its essence).

    To paraphrase Wallace Stegner: harding writing makes for easy reading.

  4. Just so you know how much i was liking it I’ll tell you. Listening to audiobooks lets me get things done while hearing the story. I was so interested that when the 3rd cd was hopelessly scratched, I brought it to the library and ordered another copy from another library. When it arrived, it was an Mp3 that didn’t work in the cd player, and it took hours to figure out how to play it on my computer.
    It was making total sense, but then, I don’t understand exactly what happens at the end. Does it turn into a series of hypotheticals? You hear of him reaching into the trash for a belt (a bomb?) Then reaching into the trash and nothing is there. He goes to the river and throws everything into it, but then he mails it to Rose. Does he get kicked out of the U.S.? He killed Christopher, but how did it happen. Presumably the lion kills the gazelle, so did Christopher attack first then Jonas kills him? Was Christopher hoping he would do it in his sleep? (He woke up at the end.)
    Some websites are comparing it to a bible story, so maybe you have to read that to know?

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