A Requiem: "The Book of Jonas"
By Karen Ballum on April 18, 2012
BlogHer Original Post
When you pick up Stephen Dau's debut novel The Book of Jonas, I urge to set aside a good chunk of time to read it. I don't say that because it's a long book or one that is is difficult to read, but because if you are anything like me, you will not appreciate life interrupting your time with this novel. I found Dau's sparse prose and Jonas's story to be utterly engrossing.
What would you do if you lost everything and everyone you loved? That is a decision that 15-year-old Yonnis has to make. Much of his small village in an unnamed Muslim country was damaged in an attack by U.S. military forces. His family home was destroyed. He is given a chance at a new life in America and he takes it, changing his name to Jonas along the way. But Jonas finds he cannot leave his old life behind. It haunts him and shapes him. He cannot move forward until he faces what happened when he lost it all.
There is certainly a lot for Jonas to face. There are a lot of questions that he's refused to answer. No one really knows what happened or how he was saved. What really happened in the cave? What did Jonas read in Christopher's journal? What happened to Christopher?
Dau doesn't tell the story linearly. It jumps through time, sometimes only giving you glimpses of what happened, or at least what you think happened. Jonas is not an entirely reliable narrator. He questions if his own memories are true or if he's filled them with things that reflect the way that he wishes things had been. Dau plays with the truth and makes the reader work to decide what is true and what is not.
Divided into different sections titled "Processional," "Remembrance," "Communion," "Confession," "Atonement," "Benediction" and "Recessional," the book may remind you of a funeral. I, personally, believe it was supposed to be a requiem. There is something in Dau's writing and Jonas' story that encourages the reader to be quiet and still. Much like Rose, I felt I was straining to hear his story and that I didn't want to move too fast for fear that Jonas would stop sharing it. Is it a requiem for Christopher? For Jonas? For all of those who are touched by war?