Kluge chronicles the overlapping lives of strangers who travel to Saipan and find an America they never expected.
George Griffin is a disillusioned travel writer whose latest book proposal isn’t exactly working out the way he wanted. Stephanie Warner is an academic running away from a failed marriage. Mel Brodie, a Jewish businessman, and Khan, a Bangladeshi worker, round out the core cast of characters arriving on the same flight, each hoping to find on the South Pacific island of Saipan the something that’s missing from their lives. Home to fierce fighting in World War II, Saipan became a U.S. Commonwealth, but other than the title, there is very little about the small island that speaks to the American way of life. With a tropical climate blanketing the ruins of a war fought many decades ago and the remnants of failed motels and industrial buildings littering the roads, the island speaks to immigrants looking to better their situations. Many of them find exactly the opposite, working in jobs where they are treated like slaves, earning barely enough to survive. While the island’s residents like to tout the place as paradise, one person spends much of his time bursting that bubble. Known for reasons Kluge never fully explains as the Master Blaster, this rebel maintains a website that critically examines Saipan, leading to threats and attempts to unmask his identity. Kluge’s story, told in turn by the different travelers, traces the intersection of his characters’ lives and how they relate both to one another and to Saipan. The writing is right on the mark, with the author migrating effortlessly from one point of view to another. And the characters interact plausibly, their stories overlapping almost imperceptibly, but the picture he paints of Saipan is depressing: In Kluge’s hands the island becomes a down-on-its-luck Paradise wannabe that exists only to bilk migrants of their dreams.
Highly imaginative but unfortunately titled and depressing from first page to last, the novel won’t send anyone rushing to book a vacation on the island of Saipan.