Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Review: 'Unbound' by John Shors

Colorado author John Shors has the gift. It is as simple as that. In BENEATH A MARBLE SKY he created a stunning love story woven through the interstices of the 16th century Hindustani building of the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the world, a place on earth where Paradise touches mortals in a magnificent mausoleum for the beloved wife of the Emperor. Not only it this a symphonic novel of surpassing craftsmanship and beauty, it is also a book that informs the reader about the differences between Muslim and Hindu religions, about the Persian Empire, about customs of caste, of worldviews, of architecture, and of the myriad flavors of a land too few of us understand. He continued this quality of writing in BESIDE A BURNING SEA, DRAGON HOUSE, THE WISHING TREES, CROSS CURRENTS, TEMPLE OF A THOUSAND FACES and now with UNBOUND.

John has secured his place among popular American novelists of the decade with this his seventh novel that combines a growing respect of the beauties of the globe and the intricacies of the manner in which characters seemingly misplaced in locales seek to find themselves only to discover that their place in the confusion of the world is close at hand, partially shaded by nature’s vagaries.

With UNBOUND John invites us to China in the year 1548 and while his prose visually creates the Great Wall of China, his story is once again about love and commitment and resolution that will tie husband and wife together despite the separation of the Mongol invasion threat that separates them. An aspect of John’s passion for history, romance and communication of his thoughts is evident in his pausing to offer an Author’s Note at book’s inception: ‘The Great Wall of China is one of the most awe-inspiring creations of humanity. But why was the legendary fortification built? And who built it? Modern scholars tell us that the Great Wall is not actually a single wall, but a collection of ramparts that were raised over a two-thousand-year period. Running from east to west near the northern border of China, the Great Wall was created to protect the Chinese from nomadic tribes, mainly the Mongols and Manchus. Early sections of the Great Wall were little more than barricades of branches, dirt, and rocks. As the centuries passed, the skills of the builders improved, and by the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), the Great Wall was constructed more as an endless series of small, connected castles than a featureless barrier. Several million Chinese died building the Great Wall. Some of them were criminals. Others were soldiers. Many were pressured into work through laws designed to reward hard labor with tax exemptions. Everyone toiled under dangerous and often besieged conditions, creating an unrivaled fortification that, if its parts were added together, would stretch for more than five thousand miles. Once I chose to write a novel about the Great Wall, I was faced with a variety of options in terms of time and setting. I decided to place my story toward the end of the Ming Dynasty. At this time, China had about 150 million people, yet was vulnerable to Mongol attacks. Fierce, mobile, and unrivaled horsemen, the Mongols had struck fear into the hearts of the Chinese for generations. Rather than send armies north to meet and likely be defeated by their foe, the Ming leaders decided to reinforce and expand the Great Wall—a strategy that would become arguably the most ambitious building project in history. UNBOUND is loosely fashioned after the famous Chinese legend of a husband and wife who became swept up in the undercurrents of the Great Wall’s creation. At the time that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was captivating audiences in the West, within China the story of Fan and Meng was being told with equal reverence. The tale of their epic struggle has been since shared from generation to generation, enduring the passage of time with as much resiliency and grace as the stones upon which they are said to have suffered. So it is the setting, not the characters, in this novel that is based on historical fact.’

There are many reasons to select books to read. Selecting UNBOUND celebrates our intellect, our passion, our need for knowledge of the past, and our luxuriating in brilliant prose. Highly recommended on every level. Grady Harp, August 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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