Friday, May 24, 2013

Review: The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussmann

Jamie Hyde is an adventure guide and, as The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman opens, Jamie is in a plane which is touching down on Bali. This is not, however, her first trip to Bali. Just one year prior, Jamie was in Bali during the 2002 nightclub bombings and she barely escaped the resulting carnage. During the immediate aftermath, she met Gabe, an ex-pat living in Bali and together they tried to heal from their physical injuries and the emotional damage from having witnessed the bombings. Ultimately, Jamie fled Bali and Gabe but she is back one year later searching for healing and peace.

 Jamie is fun-loving and her witty sarcasm is evident even in the opening lines of the book. But her quick wit is thinly covering deep wounds from the 2002 terrorist attacks in Bali. In addition to her aching arm, Jamie is haunted by nightmares and her heart is heavy with everything she saw during the bombings. However, she bravely returns one year later to confront her fears but also hoping to find Gabe. She left Gabe abruptly a year prior in the days following the bombings but she had made a connection with him in those horrific days and is anxious to reconnect. Jamie checks into the Paradise Guest House for her visit and is enveloped in the warmth and hospitality that personifies Bali but even the guest house is a reminder of the events - a widower who lost his wife in the attacks is staying there. Everyone, residents and visitors alike, is on a journey of healing.

My Thoughts
The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman is a short (288 pages), but emotionally packed, novel.  It is beautifully written and the author treats the tragedy with compassion and care. The result is a travel novel and a homage to the country and people of Bali.

This book touched me on many levels. I lived in NY during 9/11 and, even though I was fortunately not directly affected by the attacks, I can relate to having your world  rocked by terrorism. The fear and uncertainty that is brought by terrorism and the effect of seeing so much suffering all around you is difficult to shake.  I saw Jamie and the others experience much of those same emotions.  She, and Bali, also experienced healing and I saw NYC and many of my neighbors make that same journey.

The setting was also special for me - I visited Bali in 2007 and absolutely loved the country and its people. You could not ignore, however, the effects of the bombings even five years later. The undercarriage inspections cars and taxis received every time we pulled up to the hotel was a constant reminder of the tragedy and the changed country it left behind. Despite that, I felt a relaxation and serenity while there unmatched by anywhere else I have visited.

Maya Ubud  - my hotel while in Bali

 Sussman does a wonderful job of portraying the gentleness and peace that surrounds you while in Bali. In addition, there is a tremendous focus on family in the Balinese culture which Sussman showcases through the character of Nyoman who owns the guest house. It certainly brought authenticity to the book for me. A great read - definitely recommend.

Read other reviews from those on the tour

I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley. 


  1. Maybe I should revisit this in print. I tried it on audio and didn't love it the way everyone else has.

  2. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one -- it made me so teary, too (in a good way) -- and the sense of place evoked was so GOOD. It makes me want to go to Bali even more.

  3. I really enjoyed your post and your personal experience in Bali gave you a special connection that added to this review.

  4. Great review. I'm considering this one. Bali sounds like an amazing place.

  5. Colleen, this sounds like a good one. Thanks for letting us know about it. cheers

  6. I've been looking at this one and it sounds terrific from your review. I need to get a copy.

  7. Wow, this sounds like a beautiful, moving book that will stick with reader for a very long time.

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

  8. It's on my list of books I want to read so I'm glad you recommend it!