Beside a Burning Sea

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Overview

From the author of Beneath a Marble Sky comes an inspiring new novel of a man and a woman from different worlds whose love is put to the ultimate test as they struggle to survive an extraordinary set of circumstances.

View our feature on John Shors' Beside a Burning Sea.

One moment, the World War II hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy—to save wounded American soldiers. The next, Benevolence is split ...

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Beside a Burning Sea

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Overview

From the author of Beneath a Marble Sky comes an inspiring new novel of a man and a woman from different worlds whose love is put to the ultimate test as they struggle to survive an extraordinary set of circumstances.

View our feature on John Shors' Beside a Burning Sea.

One moment, the World War II hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy—to save wounded American soldiers. The next, Benevolence is split in two by a torpedo, killing almost everyone on board. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse whom he saves from drowning, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island.

Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company—and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but tormented woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making—a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving.

With the blend of epic storytelling and emotional intensity that distinguishes him as a unique talent, John Shors reveals a powerful story of redemption focusing on unlikely lovers, heroes and villains, and war-torn countries—all, in their own ways, fighting to survive.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shors' sophomore effort (following Beneath a Marble Sky), set on an island in the South Pacific during three weeks in 1942, features achingly lyrical prose, even in depicting the horrors of war. After a U.S. hospital ship is torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese, a handful of survivors struggle for survival on a remote island. They include the captain and an officer; a Japanese prisoner, Akira, and two ship's nurses he saved (one of them the captain's wife); and the ship's engineer, who saves a Fijian stowaway, Ratu. Akira, a college professor pressed into service, is haunted by what he saw, did, and didn't do at Nanking. Jake, the engineer, is a black farmer who sees in Ratu the son he never had. Ratu adds a colorful combination of winsome bravado, humor and childish fear; each main character is similarly well-rounded, excepting the single-minded traitor among them, unsuspected by his fellow castaways. Shors pays satisfying attention to class and race dynamics, as well as the tension between wartime enemies. The survivors' dignity, quiet strength and fellowship make this a magical read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Des Moines Register
Jahanara is a beguiling heroine whom readers will come to love; none of today's chick-lit heroines can match her dignity, fortitude and cunning...Elegant, often lyrical, writing distinguishes this literary fiction from the genre known as historical romance. It is truly a work of art, rare in a debut novel.
India Post
An exceptional work of fiction...A gripping account.
Rocky Mountain News
An absorbing novel about the extremes of passion—with much relevance for our own time.
ForeWord
As luminous a jewel as any that adorn the Taj Mahal's walls.
Kirkus Reviews
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. Maybethings . . . evil things just happen."Fast-paced and earnest, but this tale of a fateful trip promises more depth than it delivers. Agent: Laura Dail/Laura Dail Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451224927
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 402,925
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Shors

John Shors traveled extensively throughout Asia after graduating from Colorado College in 1991, living for several years in Japan, where he taught English, and then trekking across the continent, visiting ten countries and climbing the Himalayas. More recently, Mr. Shors worked as a newspaper reporter in his hometown, Des Moines, Iowa, before entering public relations and moving to Boulder, Colorado. Beneath a Marble Sky is his first novel.

Biography

Published in 2004, John Shors' debut novel, Beneath a Marble Sky, was a major hit with critics from the start. An ambitious romance chronicling the lives of Emperor Shah Jahan the creator of the Taj Mahal, the wife for whom he built the legendary palace, and their daughter who falls in love with its architect, Beneath a Marble Sky was hailed as a major debut by publications ranging from the Des Moines Register to the India Post. Still, Shors' labor of love was not exactly soaring off of bookstore shelves. That's when the young author devised a radical, and radically personal, method of generating the kind of sales Beneath a Marble Sky deserved.

"I came up with the idea of putting the letter in the back of the paper back, with my e-mail address, and inviting book clubs to invite me to their evenings," Shors told CBS News. Soon enough, Shors was receiving scores of requests to visit local book clubs and speak about his novel. He also discovered that sales of Beneath a Marble Sky were on the rise. By November of 2006, Shors had visited over 200 clubs and was booked for many more through 2008.

Such ambition may be unusual in the world of publishing, but it is hardly new to Shors. Prior to penning Beneath a Marble Sky, he had traveled to Asia after years of studying creating writing and English at Colorado College. For three years, he taught English in Kyoto, Japan, but never able to remain still for long, he decided to exit his teaching post to backpack across the continent. Shors tramped through ten countries and scaled the mythic Himalayas in Nepal, but it was a 1999 sojourn in India that really altered the path of his life. "Seeing the wonder of the Taj Mahal, and understanding that a man built it for his wife -- a woman he cherished above all else in life -- was uniquely inspiring," Shors confided to Washington Independent Writers.org. "Indian poets have been writing about this love story for centuries. And yet, not many people in the West know the tale. I realized that I had to tell it. Quite honestly, I was amazed and delighted to discover upon my return to America that no one in the West had ever fictionalized the story."

Words such as "vivid" and "colorful" have been used to describe the epic that Shors' visit to the Taj Mahal inspired. Beneath a Marble Sky follows the life of Shah Jahan as he has the palace built for Mumtaz Mahal and they raise a bright girl named Jahanara, who not only learns the ins and outs of political thought from her father but also inherits is sense of romance. She ultimately falls in love with Isa the architect in charge of constructing the Taj Mahal and a man she is forbidden to wed.

Now that Shors is on the road again (of course, this time he is traversing America rather than exotic Asia), Beneath a Marble Sky is steadily becoming as much of a hit with readers as it had been with critics since its publication. The novel went on to average sales of 1,000 copies a week. Although he has quite a full plate with his numerous book club obligations, he is still managing to find time to begin work on his second novel. Despite such a daunting schedule, the ever-energetic Shors is marching ahead with typical gusto, enthusing to CBS News: "I'm excited to do so."

Good To Know

Shortly after its publication, Beneath a Marble Sky fell into the hands of actor Eriq La Salle, former star of TV's E.R. and currently head of a production company called Humble Journey Films. Shors told Washington Independent Writers.org. that La Salle's company "is very serious about making Beneath a Marble Sky into a major movie. They are making great progress and I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll pull it off."

Beneath a Marble Sky is both a book about world culture and a book that encourages world culture in a very practical way. Shors has arranged to donate a portion of the sales of his novel to the Children's International Summer Villages (CISV) a nonprofit organization promoting cultural understanding among people around the globe.

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Shors:

"I've been lucky enough to travel to five continents and many countries."

"While I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing (I edited Beneath a Marble Sky 56 times), I am a bit of a slob around the house."

"I cannot stand the feel of cotton balls, and our little girl constantly torments me by rubbing them against my skin."

"I'd like my readers to know that I sincerely and profoundly appreciate their support. The success of Beneath a Marble Sky has given me a great gift, and I hope to repay this gift by creating powerful novels for years to come. Additionally, if any reader has a particular question for me, I'll be delighted to answer her or his question. I can be reached at shors@aol.com and I'll happily write back to anyone who contacts me."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boulder, Colorado
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 4, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Colorado College, 1991
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 27 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2008

    Great Story, Interesting Characters

    I loved this book! It was a quick read for me-- I just had to know what happened to the characters! Shors does a great job of keeping the pace moving from the very start. It's also interesting to contemplate the ways in which war changes people, some for better, others for the worse and how this book illustrates those points. Keep the tissues handy, as this book will have you crying.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2008

    a deep historical character study

    In 1942, the hospital ship Benevolence with five hundred filled patients¿ beds is sailing the South Pacific near the Solomon Islands bringing medical assistance to sailors from both sides of the conflict as required by international law. Suddenly a Japanese torpedo hits the vessel ripping the boat in half. In the next instant, as the Benevolence is engulfed in chaos, most of the crew and patients die, but a few manage to make it to a nearby island.--------------- The survivors include the captain, his spouse a nurse, another officer, an engineer, a Japanese prisoner of war, a second nurse, and a Fijian stowaway. Each has felt the horrors of war, but now must find a way to cooperate if they are to survive. However one of them is a traitor who has their own agenda defining survival quite differently than the others.------------------- The key to this powerful WW II survivor drama is each cast member is fully developed with differing personalities and backgrounds this leads to unexpected relationships as race, culture, social class, and war are explored through the interactions of the characters. Perhaps the only minor quibble is a traitor seems unnecessary suspense padding, as John Shors provides a deep historical character study.------------------ Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2008

    What a beautiful story!

    I loved Beneath a Marble Sky, which was the first novel by John Shors, and so I was eager to read his second--Beside a Burning Sea. He didn't disappoint me. Beside a Burning Sea is a wonderful, classic love story set in the South Pacific at the height of World War Two. I was crying by the end of the story, which was powerful, and gave me a new perspective on the war. His writing is beautiful. At times it's almost like reading a poem.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good story - poorly written...

    I liked this book, don't get me wrong. It was good enough to keep me interested in it and I did want to know what happened in the end, which means I did care about the characters. The problem with the book is that it just didn't seem well written. "As if" was used so many times in this book I almost...almost...put it down. Every time I came across a sentence with "as if" in it, it would just jar me, and it happened...a lot! Sometimes less is more...especially when it come to describing scenes, or even thoughts ... and this book definitely needed to be edited some. But overall a good story.

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  • Posted July 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A very good WW II book

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It kept my interest through out. I have read a lot of WW II books and believe this is one of the best. The story kept you on the edge of your seat and it was hard to put the book down. Trying to live on a small island, that you know is fixing to be invaded by the enemy at anytime would be very stressful, then to add top of that, one of your own is a traitor. The book is well written and one of my top picks

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Engrossing Story!

    I bought this book on a cart at a book store in South Carolina for $3.00 and wasn't thinking that it would be all that great, but for 3 bucks figured, "why not?". I could not put this book down! I absolutely loved the characters and the plot...The author wrote in such a manner that you really fell in love with all of the characters and felt as if you knew them personally. The scene in the forest at the pool..I actually read twice! I loved this book so much that I immediately went out and bought his other book "Beneath a Marble Sky" and was equally impressed. I am eagerly awaiting his next book...

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  • Posted June 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Excruciating Read

    I couldn't agree more w/Booksnickety. Once you've read truly well-written and complex literature, this sort of drivel just doesn't cut it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    Beside a Burning Sea (Better you burn your bra)

    Contrived story, conversations silly, waste of time reading this book!

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  • Posted December 4, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Challenging

    Another well-written, well-scripted, captivating novel by John Shors. I preferred the story line of Beneath A Marble Sky, however I found the characters here to be quite complex and the plot development really engaging - it's a tough book to put down! Bravo!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2008

    I Couldn't Put It Down

    Beside a Burning Sea is a classic love story, one set at the height of WWII in the South Pacific. John Shors really knows how to write 'something not all bestselling authors seem to truly grasp'. His novel is beautifully written, and had me hooked from the first page to the last. The way he describes people, relationships, nature, is just second to none. I highly recommend this novel. BTW, I have no idea why Barnes & Noble lists this as a 'young adult' book. This is obviously a mistake. This novel is geared toward an older audience.

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