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Book Cover Image: Taroko Gorge by Jacob RitariTitle: Taroko Gorge

Author: Jacob Ritari

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “From a 22-year-old author comes an international suspense novel about three Japanese schoolgirls who disappear into Taiwan’s largest national park.”

Thoughts: While much Taroko Gorge is about the disappearance of the girls, this is as much a novel about the individual narrators and their reliability, their motivations and their secrets. Told through the eyes of four narrators, the reader is left to fill in the blanks of their stories. It is as much a psychological story as it is a suspenseful mystery as the reader interprets the clues behind the disappearances, minuscule as they are.

The four narrators are each flawed but lend their own perspectives to the story. From the jaded American journalist to the high school leader, to the teen girl who just wants to find a boyfriend to the detective who has seen it all – each provides their own insight to the scene. Added to the mix are the cultural differences between the Japanese students, the Taiwanese detective, and the American journalists. The biases and stereotypes definitely add additional tension to an already intense situation, yet they also add a level of realism and humanity.

This is such a subtle novel. Definitely a character-driven novel, the story unfolds in spurts and starts. The beauty lies in the words, in the realizations and truths that each character comes to understand. A seemingly peaceful story, the lyricism of the words belies the underlying turmoil.

However, the words were not enough to overcome certain flaws. The biggest issue was the fact that the eventual resolution of the mystery is rather anti-climatic compared the build-up. It all seemed rather rushed and was definitely a let-down. Also, while the reader is given a glimpse into the minds of each of the four narrators, the information they choose to share is not enough to build an emotional connection to them. As a result, the reader feels more compassion and empathy towards the lost girls than he or she does the main characters.

Taroko Gorge is one I enjoyed but feel I could have enjoyed more than I did if certain things were different. It is a demanding read, and therefore not for everyone. Also, given the lack of significant action, potential readers are to be warned not to expect edge-of-the-seat suspense or a dramatic showdown. What one gets instead is an insightful, almost philosophical, cultural study of human nature in the guise of a mystery.

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copy!

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