These are big questions, with no easy answers. They are the questions posed and explored in Stephen Dau’s beautifully written debut novel, The Book of Jonas.
The novel opens as Younis, a 15 year old boy, is in the process of being repatriated from his war ravaged country (which is never named) to the United States. It’s not clear then what has happened to him, only that it was cataclysmic. On the plane trip over he changes his name to Jonas, the English translation of his birth name, and begins a new life with an American host family in Pittsburgh.
But Jonas does not find it easy to fit in among his new family and schoolmates and eventually ends up in trouble and in counseling. There, he slowly begins to allow himself to remember and reveal what happened to him and how it involved an American soldier, Christopher Henderson, who Jonas credits with saving his life.
This book is haunting me. I read it just as the news about the killings of Afghan civilians by an American soldier broke. It was impossible not to hear echoes of this book in the news coverage. And even though Younis/Jonas’ story is heart rending, and it is tempting to turn away from such sadness, Dau’s beautiful writing and the importance of the moral issues he explores make that impossible too.