BESIDE A BURNING SEA by John Shors

BESIDE A BURNING SEA

KIRKUS REVIEW

Survivors of a torpedo attack struggle for survival in the midst of World War II.

Shors follows up his ambitious debut (Beneath a Marble Sky, 2004) with an undemanding but problematic survival story that falls somewhere between Lost and Father Goose. The U.S. hospital ship Benevolence is on war duty in the Solomon Islands in September 1942 when it’s suddenly and purposefully torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, sending more than 500 souls to a watery grave. The ship’s captain, Joshua Collins, survives the event along with several others, including his wife Isabelle, Isabelle’s younger sister, Annie, a Japanese POW, Akira, and a young stowaway, Ratu, who is searching for his father. They manage to make their way to a strategically located island that threatens to be overrun by the enemy at any moment. Annie instantly forms a romantic, poetry-inspired bond with Akira, who is haunted by horrific memories of the Rape of Nanking. The good captain does some sulking over the loss of his ship until Isabelle fesses up that she’s pregnant, forcing Joshua to cowboy up and lead his tattered crew to safety in the midst of a raging typhoon. But the group’s biggest danger comes from within their own ranks. It turns out that Benevolence was targeted because of its clandestine cargo. The ship and its crew were betrayed by turncoat spy Roger, a former missionary who carries a burning hatred for the West and conspires regularly with the Japanese. Akira remains the only sympathetic and convincing character throughout, especially in the face of Roger’s cartoonish rants, Joshua’s square-jawed heroism and the addle-brained sisters, who comfort themselves with thoughts like, “Maybe there aren’t reasons. Maybe things…evil things just happen.”

Fast-paced and earnest, but this tale of a fateful trip promises more depth than it delivers.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-451-22492-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: NAL/Berkley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2008




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