Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

Title: The Paradise Guest House
Author: Ellen Sussman

Genre: Fiction (2000s / Bali / 2002 Bali Bombing / Terrorism / American Ex-Pat / PTSD / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books (3/26/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked!
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Two Americans who survived the 2002 Bali terrorist bombings struggle to move on after the terrifying event.

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- it's pretty enough, but doesn't capture the story, I think.

First line: "And you?" the man says.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like chick lit that pays attention to current events or if you like movies in the vein of Beyond Rangoon and The Impossible.

Why did I get this book?: I liked Sussman's French Lessons when I read a few years ago; was curious to see how she handled a terrorist attack!

Review: I'm not sure how to describe this book exactly: it's a beach-y romance at heart (literally featuring Bali's gorgeous beaches) featuring a hero and heroine damaged by loss and pain, set during and immediately after the October 12, 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali. I described this to a friend like chick lit for those who know a little about current events; it's emotional and weighty, but not crushingly so, punctuated with some sweet levity.

The novel opens a year after the bombings, but flashes back to those days in 2002 just before and after the bombing. Hero and heroine are thrown together under the gruesomest of circumstances, two people injured long before getting wounded in Bali.

Our heroine, Jamie, a 30ish American, is an adventure guide for a Berkeley company, and she pursues her highs -- sex, adrenalin, fun -- relentlessly. Three days into her trip in Bali, she walks into a club just moments before the first bomb goes off and is seriously injured. Our hero, Gabe, is a 40ish American, an ex-pat teaching at a Balinese school who fled the US after a personal tragedy. Gabe is having dinner with a friend when the bombs go off; he stumbles over Jamie and pulls her to safety.  In the resulting tumult, Gabe cares for Jamie until her emergency flight to the U.S. and out of that develops something sweet, sad, and confusing.

Although this is a story of ex-pats, Sussman doesn't ignore the Balinese victims and survivors, and in fact, articulates some of the anger and rage felt by Balinese when the (white) foreign tourists received priority medical treatment over native Balinese.  I was grateful for that awareness and balance.

I confess I teared up constantly while reading this book. It's not cloyingly sad or agonizingly miserable; Sussman conveys huge emotions neatly and carefully, respectfully.  As with Sussman's other book, French Lessons, I wasn't sure how she would tie things up in the end, but what results is refreshingly real.

The jacket blurb says this is for readers who liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Alex Garland’s The Beach.  I suppose it has the redemption and love found in Eat, Pray, Love but other than ex-pats and ocean, I don't see the comparison to The Beach.  If you like movies in the vein of Beyond Rangoon and The Impossible, you'll like this book, I think.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Paradise Guest House to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 4/12.


  1. This does sound like something that might be a little meatier than chick-lit, and the story line intrigues me. I am glad that you enjoyed it, but I might save it for later, since it made you so teary. This was an excellent review today! You totally sold me on this one.

    1. Heather, this is a good read for those days when you want to be a leeeetle sad, but not, like, so sad your weekend is ruined. When you just want to wallow, but a tiny bit. I hadn't even realized I was in the mood for something like this until I sucked this thing up in a matter of hours.

  2. Eh, not sure it's for me. I am actually more okay with the romance-y aspect than terrorism bits.

    1. I almost didn't go for the romance with the terrorism backdrop but for me, it worked. It was light/heavy in a good way, if that makes sense!

  3. At first I didn't think this was for me but it sounds like it's so full of emotion that I just might like it.

    1. It was very emotional without being overwrought. I was so pleased with that!

  4. Sold! I'm not much into chick-lit...but throw some history (especially something like this that I should but don't know that much about)and I'm there. I've become very easy, it seems :p

    1. I'm easy that way, too -- it was enough 'meat' to really hook me, and hooked I was!

  5. This is my favourite sort of chick-lit. I love the easy-going stories, but those that mix the light-hearted with a firm message are so often very powerful. And I love that the social tensions are explored. Bookmarking your review.

  6. "Sussman conveys huge emotions neatly and carefully, respectfully." This is difficult to do and I admire authors who can pull feelings from me like this.

    Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.