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Taroko Gorge [Paperback]

Jacob Ritari

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Book Description

June 14 2010
A disillusioned and raggedy American reporter and his drunken photojournalist partner are the last to see three Japanese schoolgirls who disappear into Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s largest national park. The journalists—who are themselves suspects— investigate the disappearance along with the girls’ homeroom teacher, their bickering classmates, and a seasoned and wary Taiwanese detective. The conflicts between them—complicated by the outrageousness of the photographer and the raging hormones of the young—raise questions of personal responsibility, truthfulness, and guarded self-interest. The world and its dangers—both natural and interpersonal—are real, changing, and violently pressing. And the emotions that churn in dark rooms overnight as the players gather in the park visitors’ center are as intense as in any closet drama. There’s enough action and furor here to keep readers turning the pages, and the cultural revelations of the story suggest that the human need for mystery outweighs the desire for answers

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Unbridled Books (June 14 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936071657
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936071654
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 16.2 x 22.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,010,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Jacob Ritari has studied with the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist organization in Taiwan and studied Japanese language and literature at Japan’s Sophia University. He lives near New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychodrama Taken to New Heights July 1 2010
By Mitchell Small - Published on Amazon.com
Jacob Ritari delves deep into human nature and focuses on emotional interaction during a crisis for his debut novel Taroko Gorge. While Taroko Gorge does revolve around the disappearance of three Japanese schoolgirls, I am loath to call this a detective novel as it focuses more on the characters feelings and interaction than on the search. I also found the use of telling the story through multiple first person views, through the eyes of several of the main characters, very effective in heightening the tension felt throughout the story.

The author's bio says he's lived in both Taiwan and Japan and it shows through these multiple points of view. Each character brings a unique cultural perspective to the narrative, a perspective that at times accentuates the difference between peoples and at other times shows how we are all really the same. The best examples of this are the various interplays between the Japanese students. The teen girls are obsessed with the teen boys and the teen boys are obsessed with the teen girls, yet neither side really knows how to deal with the other. At the same time, the teen obsession has a different character to it than if these were American teens.

The main characters have a lot of depth to them, so much so that we are introduced to some of the demons lurking in their past. This is what makes the psychological drama so believable: we are given insights into the characters' motivations. Through these revelations, the reader will develop a lot of empathy for the people they meet.

If you are tired of the same recycled plots in most detective stories these days, give Taroko Gorge a try. If you enjoy exotic locales, this novel may leave a little to be desired as it focuses on people, not location. Highly suggested for fans of psychodrama and character driven stories. Four and a half stars out of five!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Why should I be so shaken up? Somehow I had never seen a person die in front of me, but I had known plenty to go missing." July 11 2010
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
(3.5 stars) Forty-six-year-old journalist Peter Niels is touring Taiwan, a country he thoroughly enjoys, when he and his photographer, Josh Pickett, have a day free from professional responsibilities. Deciding to visit the famous Taroko Gorge, they become involved in a strange disappearance. A group of ninth grade Japanese students has come to Taroko for an end-of-the year class trip, and three of them go missing shortly after Niels and Pickett have seen them.

Author Jacob Ritari alternates his points of view from Peter Niels to Michiko Kamakuri, one of the schoolgirls on the trip who decided not to go exploring on her own; Tohru Maruyama, the ninth grade Class Representative with whom several of the girls are "in love"; and Detective Hsien Chao, the stodgy Taiwanese policeman called in to investigate the disappearances. The chaperone of the Japanese trip, Mr. Tanaka, is under great pressure to find the girls and ensure a happy ending. When a typhoon hits Taiwan before the girls have been found, the tension increases exponentially. Everyone suddenly begins to see everyone else in a new light, and the hidden resentments among the various groups--Taiwanese, Japanese, and Americans--begin to be revealed. Taiwanese Det. Hsien Chao admits he hates the Japanese and does not like Americans. Chaperone Tanaka finds the Taiwanese lazy.

While all the adults are dealing with the missing students and their own personal issues, some of the young students left at the campsite are exploring the world of love and sex, and at this point, it may be difficult for some readers not to be reminded of the plots of Young Adult fiction. Throughout the emergency, spiritual portents and religious references emerge. A monk from the nearby Buddhist temple appears and offers help, Neils hears a mysterious voice, and the ghost of one of the missing students appears. A mixture of commentary from Catholicism, Buddhism, and other New Age religions adds some spiritual significance to the participants' inner searches.

Told in clean and simple prose, the novel emphasizes plot and the effects of the disappearances on individual characters, though there are few complexities and surprises. The resolution comes naturally from the plot and ties up the loose ends without any major surprises. Since the majority of characters are about fourteen, the complexity in their lives revolves primarily around puberty, their ability to deal with the pressures of their competitive school lives, and their fear for their missing friends, and though the characters are Japanese, Taiwanese, and American, the different cultural values and behaviors are far less important here and have far less impact on character than what one might expect or hope for in a novel with this setting. Mary Whipple
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari June 27 2010
By Mike Rankin - Published on Amazon.com
Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari

American journalist Peter Neils and his photographer companion Pickett are on assignment in Taiwan. With a few days rest for themselves the two decide to make a trip to Taroko Gorge and go sightseeing. Taroko Gorge is formed by lovely trees, cliffs, huge rocks, and is bordered by the sea, and age old temples. Also arriving is a bus load of Japanese students on a field trip. All is fine until three female students become missing. After a short time authorities from Taiwan are called in to help find the girls. This is where the beautiful setting of Taroko Gorge quickly becomes a menacing environment. As the investigation begins all cultures are forced to work together to decipher the mystery. The tragedy becomes compelling when the reader is slowly lowered into a vat of deceit, lies, and decadence.
Jacob Ritari is exceptional at putting the reader in a calm lull, and slowly transforming it into a feeling of uncomfortable isolation. The biggest accomplishment of Jacob is the way he communicates the story. Each chapter is told through the eyes of a handful of different characters in the book. The reader gets to know the personalities, beliefs, and view points first hand. Good or bad, it is an obligation to stand in the shoes of those directly involved in this thriller. The imagination, creativity, and the fresh approach of Jacobs writing style is something that no one should miss.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I'd much rather be well-read than a member of society." Aug. 15 2010
By Brigitte Simone - Published on Amazon.com
As there has been many (well deserved) extended reviews of this book, I will limit mine to a few words.

This book kept me guessing till the end. The characters are very well developed and believable - you care about them as you come to know them -, and the setting is just as convincing. You really feel there, and I think that's what it comes down to, in the end, and how you know that the writer is talented, and did his job. And that is why I am giving "Taroko Gorge" 5 stars.

Jacob Ritari is a wonderful writer, and this book is a great debut for him. I strongly recommend it!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly a thriller/mystery - much better July 25 2010
By C - Published on Amazon.com
Jacob Ritari's debut novel is easy to explain in plot points: A bunch of junior high students travel to Taiwan's Taroko Gorge on a class trip together and are quickly overcome by horror as three girls go missing. Many narrators then deal with the unfolding events in their own ways, each questioning their own roles in leading the girls to their mysterious disappearance.

"'If they just made being alive less searingly painful...'"

This novel is primarily about making sense of an accident - an accident the characters feel they could have prevented, or think someone else could have prevented. Class Rep, the senior member of the group, painfully describes his emotional state as he copes with the guilt of letting the girls out of his sight. A reporter and his colleague, having been the last to see the girls, offer their help in what appears to be a hopeless rescue effort. Various other characters, including a precocious teenager with a philosophical bent, insert a religious meditation on the disappearance - is it just one random event in a chaotic world, or is there really something - anything - guiding us in even the most senseless and painful human experiences?

As one character says:

"I once had a conversation with Chris Hitchens. He told me that religion preyed on people's fear of death, and I told him that if not for religion - it seemed to me - a lot of people might get away with never thinking about death."

While it's sometimes hard to take the meanderings of this group of people, it's also realistic. Faced with the increasingly likely prospect that three girls, known and even loved by some, what else are you supposed to do?

In searching for the elusive truth - about what happened, but even more about existence itself - the author presents the reader with its flip-side: The lies we require that hold us together, the things we tell ourselves and others to create a story that makes sense, or softens the hard blows, of reality.

"...there are, well, basically three views you can take about life. The first is that I don't understand it. The second is that I can't understand it. The third is that it doesn't make any sense."

Minor complaints: The middle chapters narrated by an adult, and one entire scene where, out of nowhere, comes a flashback that's wholly out of place and a bit melodramatic. I can't say that I felt the final chapter satisfying, or the philosophical musings compelling, but they gave food for thought. And that's the whole point: To think about life, to think about death, and to try to make sense of it all.

Other than that, the portrayal of youth and the novel's storytelling are entirely a joy to read. The cultural tensions present throughout the book added an important depth to the book. The native language of the characters were also pleasurable - I even learned some about the nuances of names - and jived in a way that it didn't in Oscar Wao.

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