Review: Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari

Publisher: Unbridled Books


Source: From Publicist

From the cover:

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.

Taroko Gorge is a wonderfully exquisite book that I never wanted to end. I didn’t want to emerge from the world Ritari created and leave Taroko Gorge and the characters in the book behind.

The disappearance of three Japanese schoolgirls during their senior class trip brings together a variety of characters under one roof as they try to solve the mystery. The story is narrated in first person from 4 very different viewpoints, which effectively reveals how people from different backgrounds and life experiences are affected by a crisis and how they react in such a situation.

The first narrator is Peter Neils, an American journalist, who’s intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the girls and finds himself more interested in this story than the story he was initially in Taiwan for. Second up, we have Michiko Kamakiri, a disgruntled Japanese school girl who finds the school trip as being her last chance to make a love confession to the boy she likes. Next we have Tohru Maruyama, a Japanese schoolboy and also the responsible class representative. Last, Hsien Chao, the arrogant Taiwanese police detective that harbors ill feelings towards foreigners.

Immediately following the disappearance of the girls, the situation turns into a violent witch hunt with students pointing fingers and physically attacking one another. Accusations fly and secret confessions are revealed as Tohru noted

“the conversation we were having was so weird, so intimate. It only happen because of what had happened, because of where we were. And we both been saying the things we only ever think, whether we’re serious or not, and it had all slipped out”.

As the story unfolds, each person reveals their reason for staying behind at the Taroko Gorge visitor center and why they feel responsible for what occurred. They each have their own theories of what happened, while secretly distrusting and accusing one another. Ritari was able to realistically develop each character and give them a distinct voice while demonstrating the natural responses that humans have when faced with loss and tragedy. Some seek comfort through cigarettes and alcohol, while others seek company and others to share the burden and responsibility they feel.

The book focuses on more than just the simple mystery surrounding the disappearance of three schoolgirls. It also captures the feelings and emotions of how people respond to and during a tragedy and more importantly how each person has to find his or her own way to move on from the event. By using narrators from such varying backgrounds, Ritari was able to create a book that encompasses many questions about different cultures, religions, and philosophies. Taroko Gorge is a deep and thought provoking book that will sit with you long after you turned the last page.

[ purchase from amazon ] [ visit the author ]


Posted on July 14, 2010, in 4.5 stars, book reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This looks intense. Don’t you love it when you don’t want a book to end? It’s the best feeling. Bittersweet but still…

    I’ll have to add this to my list. Great review, Toothy!

  2. I just saw this book for the first time the other day. I thought the cover looked interesting…..

  3. Sounds like a fascinating way to approach the mystery. I’m looking forward to reading this one!

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