The Collection of Heng Souk by S.R. Wilsher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Collection of Heng Souk by S.R. Wilsher is a fictional story that takes place 40 years after and during the Vietnam War. Sun (one of the main characters) delivers a box to her uncle, Heng Souk after her father's death. It is during this meeting that Sun takes a notebook written by Ephraim (a POW) from her uncle and reads about the past and what really happened while her uncle was commander of the Citadel (POW Camp).
This is a gripping story about love, forgiveness, understanding, and so much more. The emotions of the characters and intensity of the situations within this novel is beautifully written. In fact, it is written so well that you have to be prepared for that which is not written into words. I don't want to write any spoilers so I really can't explain this statement but you will know what I mean once you read it.
The story has subplots that connect to the plot. At the beginning of the book (which is where it is the slowest) I wasn't quite sure where the story was going but it didn't take long for it to take off and then there was no putting it down. I found it interesting the way the story came together and how the war affected the men on both sides, others, and the generation to come.
The endings were unexpected and by endings I mean the closures for the characters toward the end of the book not necessarily just the very last page of the book. There were many things said and done that I didn't see coming but what Sun did (regarding her husband, Huy) and the closure Thomas provided to his mother was amazing.
The characters in the story were believable. Sun was a curious, brave, and smart young women who really knew how to control her temper. Although she had an abusive husband, she seemed like she could hold her own in most situations. She was likable and I found the 'growth' in her character interesting.
I hate Heng Souk for what he did to the POWs but at the same time I found him to be a fascinating character. It was almost like he was two separate characters because of what he was like during the war isn't what he is like now. He seemed distant and a mystery (as he was to Sun) throughout the book. He never directly answered many questions yet he answered them (I was expecting a simple "yes" or "no"). Even at the beginning when Sun brought him the box and was going to tell him that his brother (her father) had passed away she eventually tells him that her father had spoke highly of him and his reply was, "We had different skills. People often hold the skills they don't have in high regards." At another point she asked if he thought highly of her father and he replies, "He was my brother." The most notable one to me is at the Citadel when Sun asked if it felt wrong for him to kill the men and he answers, "Few people commit evil without any stain on their conscience. But there are times when your life changes so gradually that you don't realise what you are doing is wrong. The abnormal becomes normal in slow uncertain steps of misfortune and poor judgement; the worst can unwind so slowly that it appears reasonable. But if you want to win wars you need men prepared to do terrible things."
Then there is Ephraim Luther and the notebook he wrote while he was being held at the Citadel about himself, Heng Souk, as well as other POWs. Enough was revealed in the notebook about the horrors of being a POW, I was grateful it did not go into vivid details of the treatment, torture, and death of the men. (What is written is sufficient enough to get the point across without making me sick to my stomach.) The notebook also reveals how everything isn't what it seems, even to Heng Souk. It also helps provide a better understanding of the other characters and how the war affected them.
I thought I would mention that although I came across a few errors, the author is from the U.K. so there are some spelling differences from "American" English (e.g., realise instead of realize) which to me are not errors at all. Either way you view it, it didn't take away from the story. I did not come across any kind of formatting issues although I should mention that the cover of the book on Amazon is not the cover that I have on my Kindle. The one on Amazon is a picture that I assume is of a Vietnam but the one on my Kindle is a red background with a single (partial) tree that looks to be drawn (vs. photo). I contacted the author and found out that the cover was in fact drawn by his daughter for his book however with the comments he received he changed it. If the cover matters and you got the wrong one I am sure if you contact him he will send you the one on Amazon because he had offered to send to send it to me but I much rather have his daughter's drawing.
I have gone over the review for this book for weeks. It is taking me longer to write this than it did to read the whole book because I want to convey the emotion, the thoughts, the feelings, and everything else that was written into this book but even now I still feel I am not expressing it enough. This is a powerful book that I do recommend to those who enjoy history based fiction.
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