Besides A Burning Sea

A Conversation John Shors

During your conversations with more than one thousand book clubs, what have been some of your more memorable moments?

The conversations were fantastic, of course. But even more so have been the letters and e-mails that I received afterward. These contained wonderful messages, as well as photos of the groups (oftentimes with members wearing saris and covered in henna paintings).

What's something that you learned about book clubs during your many visits with them?

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Read an excerpt from Beside a Burning Sea:

Day One

Warm winds bear old scents.
I ask why I have fallen
And how I may rise.


September 23, 1942

Solomon Islands


Ten minutes before a torpedo sliced through the sea and slammed into steel, most everything was normal aboard the U.S. hospital ship Benevolence.

Parting the temperate waves of the South Pacific at a speed of twelve knots, Benevolence more closely resembled a transatlantic passenger liner than the handiwork of the U.S. Navy. The five-story vessel spanned four hundred feet and boasted engines that generated four thousand horse-power. The ship was coated in white paint, with giant red crosses dominating its sides and smokestack. From a distance, Benevolence looked far more majestic than a massive chunk of floating steel had any right to. The ship radiated comfort and security and solace.

Below deck, reality was far different. Benevolence held nearly five hundred hospital beds, which were filled with soldiers who suffered everything from chest wounds to lost appendages to malaria and psychiatric maladies. Attending to these patients were several dozen navy doctors and nurses. Though few of these healers had been on the front lines, during the course of the war most had been shot at by snipers, lifted off the ground by bomb blasts, and contracted a tropical illness. Moreover, the mental toll of trying to cure the often incurable had pushed many of the staff to and beyond the breaking point.

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