The Paradise Guest House: A Novel

The Paradise Guest House: A Novel

by Ellen Sussman
The Paradise Guest House: A Novel

The Paradise Guest House: A Novel

by Ellen Sussman



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A riveting and poignant novel of one woman’s journey to Bali in search of love, renewal, and a place to call home—perfect for readers of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Alex Garland’s The Beach.
It starts as a trip to paradise. Sent on assignment to Bali, Jamie, an American adventure guide, imagines spending weeks exploring the island’s lush jungles and pristine white sand beaches. Yet three days after her arrival, she is caught in Bali’s infamous nightclub bombings, which irreparably change her life and leave her with many unanswered questions.
One year later, haunted by memories, Jamie returns to Bali seeking a sense of closure. Most of all, she hopes to find Gabe, the man who saved her from the attacks. She hasn’t been able to forget his kindness—or the spark between them as he helped her heal. Checking into a cozy guest house for her stay, Jamie meets the kindly owner, who is coping with a painful past of his own, and a young boy who improbably becomes crucial to her search. Jamie has never shied away from a challenge, but a second chance with Gabe presents her with the biggest dilemma of all: whether she’s ready to open her heart.
Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

Praise for The Paradise Guest House
“Two survivors of Bali’s terrorist bombing find love and spiritual rebirth on an island whose inhabitants believe in reincarnation in Sussman’s touching panorama of paradise. . . . Throughout, Sussman celebrates lovers, quiet healing, and the sweetness of the island and its people.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A story of healing and redemption, of finding love in the most unexpected places, and of the importance of moving forward . . . Sussman has drawn a vivid, well-balanced portrait of a woman and a country working to recover from an unimaginable event and a very personal look at a global tragedy.”—Booklist
“Echoing Bali’s difficult recovery from [the 2002 terrorist bombing], the characters tread the difficult terrain of post-traumatic attachment. . . . A respectful and earnest . . . treatment of devastation’s aftermath.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[A] moving story about making sense of life after a tragedy . . . This touching tale will cause contemplation about what closure truly means.”—RT Book Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345522825
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/26/2013
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 288
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Ellen Sussman is the author of the novels French Lessons and On a Night Like This, both national bestsellers. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in Northern California.

Read an Excerpt

Part One


“And you?” the man says. “What takes you to Bali?”

The plane breaks through the cloud and there it is—­an island full of dense jungles, terraced rice paddies, and glorious beaches. Jamie flinches as if someone’s laid a fist into her heart.

“Vacation?” her seatmate asks when she doesn’t answer.

“Yes,” she lies. “Vacation.”

He’s already told her about his silent meditation retreat, how he can’t wait, how he needs to unwind, and she thinks: Start now. She curses herself for talking to him in the first place. It was the second scotch that loosened her tongue and made her break her rule: no chats on airplanes. You can’t escape.

“All by yourself?” he asks.

Jamie turns toward him. “There’s an event,” she says. “I was invited to attend.” She absentmindedly runs her finger against the long, thin scar at the side of her face and then buries her hand in her lap.

“A wedding?” he asks eagerly. He’s already told her about his wonderful Australian fiancée who will meet him at the retreat in Ubud.

“No,” Jamie says. Her mind’s a muddle of thoughts now. There’s no reason to tell him anything. And yet she’s been telling the world: I’m going back to Bali. She’s loved watching the astonished faces of her friends. How brave, they’ve said. How bold.

The plane shudders as it passes through a cloud, and Jamie grips the arms of her seat.

“What are you drawing?” her seatmate asks. “You’re good.”

Jamie looks at the pad in her lap. She’s sketched the island from an aerial view. She uses a light hand and few strokes—­she’s self-­taught, and it shows. Sometimes she gets it right and sometimes—­like this time—­the lines don’t add up.

“Doodles,” she says, covering the paper with her hand. The plane tilts to reveal the southern coast of Bali. “That’s Kuta Beach.”

The white-­sand beach stretches for miles. The center of the island is all mountain and jungle. The color is astonishing—­iridescent lizard green. Then it’s gone and they’re immersed in a thick cloud.

“You’ve been here before?” he asks.

“A year ago,” she says. Her palms are slick with sweat.

“When my fiancée told me to meet her here, I said, No way, José. Hundreds of people were killed in the terrorist attack last year, right? Bombs at nightclubs? But she keeps promising me it’s paradise.”

How the hell will this guy survive a silent meditation retreat, Jamie thinks.

And like a man who doesn’t know what to do with a momentary silence, he plunges on. “Why would terrorists target Bali? I get the World Trade Center—­it was the core of the economic world. But kids dancing at a club on some remote Indonesian island?”

The plane bumps along the runway. Jamie releases her breath.

“You don’t have to go,” Larson, her boss and her best friend, had told her yesterday when he drove her to the airport from Berkeley. “You’ve been through enough.”

“I have to do this,” Jamie told him.

“Me, I avoid pain.”

She watched a sly smile appear on his craggy fifty-­seven-­year-­old face. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three months before. His life was pain.

“You’ll be okay without me?” Jamie asked.

“Who needs you? I’ve got two dates this weekend.”

Jamie put her hand on his bald head. She calls it her Wishing Dome. She’d rub it and make three wishes. Live longer. Live better. Live.

“Call me while I’m away and charge it to the business,” Jamie had said. “Don’t tell the boss.”

“The boss never misses a thing,” Larson told her. “I know what you’re up to in Bali. And it’s not all about the ceremony.”

“It’s all about the ceremony,” she insisted.

“You’re going to try to find that guy,” Larson said. “Gabe.”

“Wrong,” Jamie told him. But her voice wobbled and she turned away from him.

Now loud static fills the air, and the pilot says something inaudible over the intercom. The man next to her pats her hand. She swings her head back toward him.

“You take care now,” he says. He is already standing and gathering his things. The passengers fill the aisles. When did the plane come to a stop?

Jamie nods. She doesn’t move. The man disappears down the aisle.

She looks at the drawing in her lap. A couple of the lines—­palm trees, though she can’t remember if there even are palm trees in Bali—­look like monsters standing guard over the island. I’m back, she tells them. Don’t mess with me.

Finally she pushes herself up and out of her seat. She’s the only passenger left on the plane. She reaches for her bag in the overhead bin and then moves down the aisle, rolling the suitcase behind her. A flight attendant, her vest already unbuttoned, mutters, “Sayonara my ass,” to herself. When she hears Jamie’s bag knock against the leg of a seat, she looks back.

“Oh, sorry,” the young woman says. “I thought everyone was gone.”

“I’d fallen asleep,” Jamie lies.

The flight attendant steps aside and finds her cheery smile. “Your first time in Bali?” she says sweetly.

Jamie hesitates, then nods.

“Spiritual journey?” the woman asks.

“God, no.”

The woman laughs. “Good,” she says. “So you won’t be disappointed. I can’t tell you how many of them get on the return flight and they’re surprised that they’ve still got all the same miserable problems they came with. I don’t know what they’re looking for.”

“The sun,” Jamie says. “That’s all I’m looking for.”

“That you’ll find,” the woman assures her. “Happy tanning.”

Jamie steps through the door of the plane and pauses before heading down the metal staircase to the tarmac. The heat wraps around her and stops her breath. She’s blinded by the sun, and she remembers the moment after the club was washed in a hot white blankness as if it had been erased—­sound, too, had stopped—­and then it all came screaming in—­color, noise, pain.

“Can I help you?” the flight attendant asks Jamie.

“No,” Jamie says, and she takes a step forward, into Bali.

When the taxi jolts to a stop, Jamie’s eyes fly open and for a startled second she catches a glimpse of Gabe in her dream—­no, it’s something more tactile than visual. His fingers drawing circles on her hip. The smell of the sea in his hair. She clears her mind with a shake.

“This is the street,” the taxi driver says, patiently waiting for her.

Jamie had been wide awake at the start of the hour-­long taxi ride to Ubud. She watched the hordes of motorbikes fill the streets, rolling down the windows to let in thick tropical air. And then sleep kicked in. Hours on international flights and she couldn’t doze for a minute. Ten minutes in a beaten-­up jalopy without air-­conditioning and she was comatose.

“Lady,” the taxi driver says. He is young and smells of ginger. On the dashboard are prayer offerings, probably to the gods of potholed roads with too many motorbikes.

“Thank you,” Jamie says, paying the man and hauling her suitcase out of the car.

She stands on the sidewalk and looks around. She hadn’t visited Ubud a year ago. She’d stayed in Seminyak for the first few days. And then she spent three days in a beach cottage somewhere until she could flee the country.

But Ubud is the home of Nyoman, her host for this trip down memory lane. The foundation that organized the one-­year-­memorial event sent her a packet with his name, his address, and an itinerary of events leading up to the ceremony on Sunday. She’d also received a plane ticket, a gift from the government of Bali. She’d been promised a new Bali.

Jamie looks around. People swarm the streets, and she feels the immediate exhilaration that always marks her first day in a new country. But it’s mixed with something else, something that chills her skin, despite the damp heat. I can do this, she tells herself, in the same way she has argued with her mother for weeks. I have to do this.

She reads the name of the inn on the piece of paper in her hand: The Paradise Guest House. She walks by a series of modest cottages, some of them with stone gates and elaborate carved entrances, none of them with names.

She feels someone’s eyes on her and glances across the street. A young boy sits on the dusty curb with a dog. The boy is mangy; the dog is mangier. The boy boldly keeps his eyes on her, and, after a moment, his lips curl into a grin.

Jamie offers him a weak smile in return but thinks: Leave me alone.

The boy stands, and within a second the dog stands, too. The boy is probably twelve, Jamie guesses, and wily. He looks smart and vigilant, and she suspects that he’s a street kid. Or maybe all kids in Bali look like this—­she has no idea. She doesn’t know this country. She doesn’t want to know this country.

But isn’t that why she’s here?

“I help you!” he calls from across the street.

“No, thank you!” Jamie calls back. She hurries down the road, pulling her small suitcase behind her.

But in a quick moment, he’s beside her, offering to take the suitcase, his hand on hers. She pulls away.

“I’m fine,” Jamie insists.

“You want nice hotel?” he says.

Do kids speak English here? Is it possible that last time, in one whole week, she never saw a kid in Bali? She saw the inside of her hotel room, beachside bars, a mountain trail. She saw Gabe, standing in a garden, his feet lost in a sea of orchids and gardenias.

“I don’t need help,” Jamie tells him, her voice a little sharp.

“Everyone need help,” the boy says, smiling. In fact, he has not stopped smiling. He is tall and he smells like earth and rain. His dog walks at his side like a shadow. It’s a skinny pup, some handsome mix of black Lab and border collie.

Jamie sees a sign outside a gate: the paradise guest house. The sign is painted gold with black letters. She turns abruptly down the path, hoping to lose the boy. But he’s quick and again reaches for the suitcase. He must be looking for a tip.

“I’ve got it,” she says testily. “Goodbye.”

“You are tired,” the boy says. “Tomorrow you will be nicer.”

She nods, unsure how to answer him. He opens the gate for her and lets her pass through.

“I see you tomorrow, miss,” he says.

As he closes the gate, she takes a deep breath. Jasmine. The gate shuts out the noise from the street, the boy and his dog, the hot sun, the dust. Her eyes adjust to the cool darkness, and a tropical garden emerges, thick with banana trees, ferns, and hibiscus. She follows a path through the dense foliage to a small stone cottage with a carved wooden door, where she lifts a knocker in the shape of a monkey and lets it fall. A hollow booming sound interrupts the silence. She waits. After a moment she knocks again, louder this time.

Finally, in slow motion, the door creaks open. A man stands there, his hair tousled, his clothes rumpled. Did she wake him? He blinks at her and runs his hand over the front of his shirt.

“Can I help you?” he asks. His accent is better than the boy’s. He adjusts his crooked glasses and peers at her.

“I’m looking for Nyoman.”

“You have found him.”

“I’m Jamie Hyde.”

He stares at her.

“I received a letter from the organization that—­” Jamie pulls open her small backpack and rummages in it to find the letter.

“Yes,” he says even before she finds it. A smile breaks through the creases of his face. “Welcome.”

“Were you expecting me?”

The man is silent for a moment. His hand goes to his head and he rubs it vigorously. When he’s done, his hair swirls on his head, making him look a little crazy.

I should leave, Jamie thinks. But, oddly, she takes a step closer to him.

“Tomorrow you are coming,” he finally says.

“I’m sorry. I thought it was—­”

“You are welcome in my house. I am often confused.” His smile transforms his face. He’s probably around forty, Jamie guesses, and though he’s badly in need of some grooming, he’s a handsome man.

“I can find someplace else to stay tonight.” Jamie unconsciously touches the scar on her face, and then she tucks her hand in her pocket.

Nyoman reaches for her suitcase. “Follow me.”

He walks past her and out the door. But instead of passing through the gate and delivering her back onto the unfamiliar streets of Ubud, he walks around the house and toward a series of small cottages behind his own. Two young boys stand in front of one of the cottages, both with toy trucks in their hands. They stare at Jamie openmouthed and then turn and run, screeching as they disappear into the trees.

“Nephews,” Nyoman says. “One is loud and the other is louder.”

He is still walking, past one cottage and then another. A very old woman, her skin brown and wizened, sits on the ground in front of one door. She smiles a toothless grin at Jamie.

“Grandmother,” Nyoman tells Jamie. He says some quick words in Balinese to the old woman, and she giggles like a young girl.

At the fourth cottage he stops. Wisteria spills over the front of the small house, its pale violet blossoms filling the air with a pungent scent. The ground in front of the wooden door is covered with petals from the flowers, a blanket of color as a welcome mat.

“Your home,” he says.

Jamie feels something unwind inside her, something that had been knotted tight since she agreed to this trip. “Thank you,” she tells him.

“Now you rest. The flights are very long. I come to get you when it is time for your dinner.”

He pushes open the door and light pours into the single room. Jamie can see a four-­poster bed with mosquito netting draped over the top. A wooden bureau with a mirror above it sits next to the wall. The room is simple and clean.

She takes a step inside. When she turns around, Nyoman is gone.

Standing in the doorway, she gazes out at the garden. There are lights in every cottage. His family, she assumes. She smells incense and she hears a rooster crowing. It is as if she stepped behind the wall of Ubud and found a different country.

My home, she thinks. Her real home in Berkeley is a room in a ramshackle Victorian house that she shares with three other adventure guides, all of them usually somewhere else in the world. And her mother had just moved out of the Palo Alto home Jamie grew up in. “I don’t want all those memories of life with your father,” Rose said when Jamie begged her to keep the house.

“I was there, too,” Jamie said, like a pouting child. She’s thirty-­two; it shouldn’t matter where her mother lives. Maybe it’s her homelessness that makes her pine for that childhood bedroom. Or maybe it’s a yearning for all those dreams only a kid can have—­parents who stay together for a lifetime, boyfriends who don’t die, nightclubs that don’t explode.

She hears the sound of someone singing. It’s a woman’s voice, high and sweet. The words must be Balinese or Indonesian—­Jamie can’t tell the difference between the two languages. But she hears something so haunting in the song that she feels herself back away from the door. The woman’s heart is broken, she thinks.

She closes the door and the sound stops.

Reading Group Guide

A Conversation with Ellen Sussman 
and Michelle Richmond
Michelle Richmond is the New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog and No One You Know and the founder of Fiction Attic Press. She lives in Northern California. Her new novel is forthcoming from Bantam.

Michelle Richmond:
The Paradise Guest House is loosely based on terrorist bombings that rocked Bali in 2002. So often, we hear about these tragic events, they linger briefly on the edge of our consciousness, and then, very quickly, we forget. What was it about the Indonesia attacks that compelled you to write this story?

Ellen Sussman: My husband and I visited Bali right after the terrorist attacks. Friends suggested we cancel our trip but we were determined to see the country. In some ways it was the best of times and the worst of times. There were very few tourists—-great for us, lousy for Bali. The landscape is astonishingly beautiful but it felt haunted by the horror of those bombings. The Balinese themselves, famous for their smiles and for their peaceful outlook on life, were clearly suffering. The country was struggling to understand what had happened to them and to learn how to move on.

It was the plight of the Balinese that captured my attention. Unlike the rest of us, they couldn’t forget what had happened to their lovely country. They’re still struggling with the consequences of those terrible acts of violence ten years later. In writing The Paradise Guest House, I wanted to take a closer look at terrorism and how it affects us. I also wanted to examine our notion of paradise and why we’re so drawn to places like Bali. There’s a wild disconnect between that act of terrorism and the beauty of Bali. As difficult as it was, I wanted to live there in my imagination.

MR: You spent time in Bali with survivors and family members of the victims. How did your conversations and relationships with these people shape your story? Are any of the characters in your book directly inspired by real--life persons?

ES: When I returned to Bali years later I contacted an organization called YKIP. They arranged the interviews, and a lovely young woman, Ida (Sri Damayanti), accompanied me as interpreter. I could not have written The Paradise Guest House without that experience. I got a chance to talk to many survivors and family members of the victims. One woman took me into her one--room house, held her baby in her lap, and described her struggle to survive after she was severely burned in the bombing. Another woman talked about waiting for her husband to come home the night of the bombings—-many years had passed, but she could still barely tell the story. Her young daughter stepped in and, holding her mother’s hand, described the way the village took care of them for the weeks after her father was killed when he drove his motorcycle by the clubs that night. The stories I heard made the event real for me—-they put a very personal face on the tragedy. I’m so appreciative to all of those brave people who shared their stories with me.

It’s odd—-none of those people directly inspired the creation of my fictional characters, and yet all of them did. They whispered to me every day as I wrote, urging me on.

In your bestselling novel, French Lessons, you explored the magical city of Paris. Bali holds a different kind of magic—-a lush green landscape that, for all its beauty, cannot help but remind Jamie of the tragedy she witnessed there. What role has travel played in your life, and how have your experiences abroad made you a better writer?

I lived abroad for five years, something I’d recommend to absolutely everyone! The experience changes you—-it helps you understand who you are in a way that you can’t quite grasp if you’ve never left your home country. And it gives you a perspective on the world—-how big it is, how diverse, how complicated—-that we Americans, especially, often fail to appreciate.

I was in my early thirties when I lived in Paris for five years—-since then I’ve traveled a great deal. I’ve spent time in Bhutan, Thailand, Argentina, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Spain, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and many other wonderful places. I travel to learn the world and to learn myself. I travel so that my eyes are always wide open.

It’s funny—-a writer has to have a kind of split personality. We live our lives and take notes on our experiences, watching it even as it happens. (I once read that Philip Roth took notes at his grandmother’s funeral!) Traveling strengthens that ability for me. My senses are heightened in foreign lands, my attention is sharp. Even as I’m having a grand time, part of me is observing, tucking images and memories away for use in my fiction. And it’s not always a grand time—-we come up against all kinds of obstacles in unfamiliar places. That’s rich material 
for me.

I leave tomorrow for a hiking trip in the Pyrenees. In January I’m headed to Chile. What am I searching for? More. More of the world, more rich experiences, more insight into myself. I need it for every novel I write.

Do you travel to places that you want to write about, or do you write about places to which you have traveled?

ES: Both. I didn’t know that I’d write about Bali when I first traveled there. I had the idea for the novel by the time my vacation ended—-and that idea wouldn’t let go. Years later I went back to spend a month there so that I could learn Bali as well as I could.

When I’m traveling I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to return to that country for a longer research trip!

A few years ago, you edited the well--received anthology Bad Girls. There’s a nod to that book in The Paradise Guest House, when Jamie goes swimming with the niece of her host and a posse of “Indonesian bad girls.” While Jamie’s acts in the immediate aftermath of the bombing are heroic, in the days that follow, she does not exactly follow the “good girl” path. I thought it was brave of you to have Jamie respond in a way that, in its realism and complexity, might cast her, for some readers, in a negative light. What inspired you to write Jamie’s relationship with Gabe in the way that you did?

ES: I’m so glad you asked that question—-I’m sure this will be a controversial issue for many readers. As far as my “bad girl” inclinations, it’s true that I’m willing to break rules or to take chances in my fiction that might displease some readers. I believe Jamie’s actions in the days after the bombing. I also believe that when two people meet each other during chaos or tragedy their connection can run very deep. It might move them to surprising actions. (I’m trying not to give anything away here! Please read the novel before you read this interview!)

But I will say this: I read that more babies were born in Manhattan nine months after 9/11 than at any other time.  Sometime it’s our ability to connect deeply with another person that saves us.

MR: In a previously published autobiographical essay, you write about jumping naked into the ocean as your first husband and his shocked colleagues looked on. In The Paradise Guest House, Jamie dives into the sea. For a moment she considers disrobing, but she recalls that she is a foreigner in Bali, and she isn’t a teenager anymore. Are you, like Jamie, particularly drawn to water? Beyond that, how much of yourself do you find in the character of Jamie, and in what ways do you differ?

Funny that you picked up on that! I put together a collection of short stories when I was in high school and I only noticed after I read it as a whole that swimming featured in every story! (And skinny--dipping was pretty common.) I’m not a great swimmer, but I love hot tubs and baths and floating in the pool. And yes, I prefer all of that without my clothes on. (Note to neighbors: our fences are very high.) There’s something so sensual about the water, and so soothing.
As for Jamie and me—-well, she might be a version of who I wish I had been at her age. She’s more independent than I am—-tougher, scrappier, and even more athletic. I’m probably just as competitive, though! If I could start over, I’d love to be an adventure guide, traveling the world.

The book has a beautiful economy. As a writer, I’m very curious how many pages or chapters were left on the editing--room floor. How different is the finished novel from the first draft? Did you lose any characters or scenes that, at some point in the writing of the book, seemed essential?

Oh, you can’t imagine the cutting--room floor on this one! Gabe had a new wife and a baby—-poor things got trashed along with an offer of marriage by Nyoman. The mistakes I made! The drafts that no one will ever see! After one draft I started over completely—-without even looking at the previous draft. It’s never easy. We writers think we learn how novels get written and then the next novel changes all the rules of the game. Grrrr. But I suppose that’s best—-it’s learning how to write each new novel that keeps us fresh and creative.

There is an incredibly harrowing scene in which you describe the bombings and the immediate aftermath. What kind of research did you do to write this scene? Also, when you’ve written an emotionally exhausting scene such as this one, how do you step out of your writing mindset and reenter your life with family and friends? Do residual emotions from the fictional world you’re so immersed in linger as you go about your day?

ES: I did a great deal of research about the bombings in Bali in 2002. In addition to my conversations with survivors, I read many firsthand accounts that I found in books, articles, and on the Internet. I looked at horrifying photos, mostly on the Internet. And yes, it haunted me day in and day out. When I went to visit the memorial site in Bali, I was as shocked as Jamie on her visit: I expected to see the scenes of those clubs ravaged and burned.

I’m the kind of person who works hard and lives hard. At the end of a writing day, I put the project aside and immerse myself in my daily life with family and friends. But during the writing of The Paradise Guest House, I did have my share of nightmares. I felt a little like Jamie, unable to tuck the experience away.

MR: This novel is coming out soon after the publication of French Lessons. Do you work on more than one book at a time, or do you completely finish a book before moving on to the next?

I can work on only one book at a time. I immerse myself so thoroughly in the world of the novel that it would be impossible for me to switch gears. But I do like to know what my next project is—-so that it’s brewing somewhere in the back of my mind. That way, when one is done I’m ready to dive into the next. (I’m happiest when I’m writing. Really.)

I’m able to write quickly because I’m a very disciplined writer. I write every day, five or six days a week. I produce one thousand words a day, and I move through a first draft pretty steadily. I love living in the world of that first draft. I turn off the noise of my critical brain and just luxuriate  in the storytelling. It’s the many rewrites that are grueling for me.

MR: We all want to know: What’s your next destination, and what’s your next book?

ES: I’m back to France, though this time I’ve landed in the south of France. It’s too soon to say much about the novel. I’m really in the discovery phase—-who are these people? What will happen to them? What draws me into their circle? But I’ll say this much: There’s a wedding. And there’s mayhem.

1. Jamie works as an adventure guide, but her experiences in Bali left her with panic attacks and a fear of crowds. If you were Jamie, would you have been able to go back to Bali? Have you ever had to return to the scene of some difficulty in your life?

2. What do you think helped Jamie more—-coming back to the site of her trauma for healing or searching for the man who helped save her life?

3. Jamie gives Bambang a chance even after the wallet--stealing incident. What does that say about Jamie?

4. Nyoman tells Jamie, “I will be your Ganesh,” referring to the statue in his garden of the Hindu deity with the head of an elephant, who is said to protect his believers from demons. In what ways did Nyoman protect Jamie? And how did her presence at the Paradise Guest House change him?

5. Jamie sees her boss, Larson, as a father figure of sorts. What does she see in him that she doesn’t see in her biological father?

6. What did you make of Jamie’s rejection of Miguel’s proposal?

7. How might Jamie and Gabe’s shared experiences in the bombing have changed their feelings for each other? Do you think they would have felt the same way if they had met under different circumstances? Do you think that a relationship that is created during a traumatic event might have a deeper bond?

8. Do you see Gabe’s time in Bali as his way of running from what happened in Boston with his son, Ethan, or as his running to something unknown and new? Or both?

9. How did Gabe’s response to the bombing differ from Jamie’s? How did it differ from that of the residents of Bali?

10. What did you think of the structure of the book? How did the alternating sections from 2002 and 2003 work to advance the narrative in unusual or unexpected ways?

11. There are many themes in this novel—-love, healing, second chances. What struck you as the most important theme? What do you think was ultimately the book’s lesson?

12. What do you imagine happens after the end of the novel?

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