3 out of 5: In this novel, Iris, a book critic, leaves an unfulfilling life in Chicago to finish her recently-deceased father's dream of opening a center for street children in Vietnam. Noah, Iris's childhood friend and a wounded veteran of the current war in Iraq, decides to join Iris in her journey. Opening the children's center in Ho Chi Minh City proves more difficult than expected as Iris and Noah confront powerful figures seeking to maintain the status quo. Along with the challenges come great rewards, including the chance to rescue children from life on the streets and an opportunity for emotional healing.
Unlike most novels set in Vietnam, which focus on the war years or the romanticized period of French colonialism, Dragon House examines the world of contemporary Vietnam. Most of the action takes place in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon), but excursions to the Mekong Delta, Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Nha Trang provide a broader perspective. Shors has spent time trekking across Asia, and Dragon House includes plenty of realistic details of Vietnam's diverse landscapes to satisfy arm chair travelers. Dragon House is heart-warming and uplifting in an uncomplicated and overly sentimental way. Readers looking to escape to a little known world with a simple story will enjoy Dragon House while those preferring more nuanced characters, plot, and prose are likely to be disappointed.