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The Compulsive Reader: The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

I had a soft spot for this book before I even started reading it. It's by Tim Wynne-Jones, one of the amazing faculty members at VCFA, and since my very first residency in 2013 I've had the pleasure of hearing Tim read from this story during faculty readings. It was a radically different story the first time I heard it--I'm pretty sure the dad was still alive (don't worry, not a spoiler). I know Tim has worked incredibly hard on this novel, and no one was more excited than the VCFA community to hear that it was going to be published.

In the beginning of the novel, Evan's father has just passed away unexpectedly. Grief-stricken Evan finds a mysterious book in his dad's study, something that his dad was reading before he died. It's the journal of Japanese soldier Isamu Oshiro, who went missing during World War II, and the American soldier who finds him. Something about the book frightens Evan's estranged grandfather and only living relative, Griff, who shows up after his dad's death and begins searching for the book. Evan turns to the book and its origin to understand the the mysteries his father and grandfather guarded, and uncover the truth about what really happened to Isamu all those years ago.

The Emperor of Any Place is a brilliant blend of history and family dynamics and magical realism. Although the majority of the story is Evan's, Wynne-Jones goes back and forth between Evan's story and Isamu's, building suspense and a strong emotional connection between the two characters. Isamu's journal details the events that occur after he is marooned on a tiny Pacific island, and slowly realizes that he is not alone there. Isamu's fantastic story is contrasted against Evan's entirely realistic one, as Evan struggles to find understand what it is that haunts Griff. Griff is precise, commanding, and sometimes terrifying as Evan digs deeper into the mystery, but he's also intriguing and smart and not exactly the villain that Evan has always thought he was.

What I love about The Emperor of Any Place is how Wynne-Jones talks about war and its far-reaching effects through the interplay of these two storylines. Each character is vivid and real, and the novel highlights the surprising relationships that develop between the characters as enemy soldiers fight against the horrors of war to work together, and estranged relatives wade through years of hurt and animosity to find common ground. This book reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Jellicoe Road, and how consequences of terrible events ripple through generations. Like Jellicoe Road, the characters in this novel reckon with the past while looking for a path to the future, but The Emperor of Any Place has a wider scope and its message about war and violence and reconciliation is more deeply felt. This is an outstanding and engrossing novel with heartbreak and loss, and surprising moments of humor and compassion. I already want to re-read it.

The Emperor of Any Place is out October 13th!

ARC provided by publisher!

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