One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo.

Beside A Burning Sea - A novel by John Shors


One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, never expecting the experiences awaiting them…

Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company – and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but troubled woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving, as forbidden as it is seductive…


“Shors’ sophomore effort (following Beneath a Marble Sky), set on an island in the South Pacific during three weeks in 1942, features achingly lyrical prose, even in depicting the horrors of war. After a U.S. hospital ship is torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese, a handful of survivors struggle for survival on a remote island. They include the captain and an officer; a Japanese prisoner, Akira, and two ship’s nurses he saved (one of them the captain’s wife); and the ship’s engineer, who saves a Fijian stowaway, Ratu. Akira, a college professor pressed into service, is haunted by what he saw, did, and didn’t do at Nanking. Jake, the engineer, is a black farmer who sees in Ratu the son he never had. Ratu adds a colorful combination of winsome bravado, humor and childish fear; each main character is similarly well-rounded, excepting the single-minded traitor among them, unsuspected by his fellow castaways. Shors pays satisfying attention to class and race dynamics, as well as the tension between wartime enemies. The survivors’ dignity, quiet strength and fellowship make this a magical read.”
Publishers Weekly

“From page one of Beside a Burning Sea, you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller.  This novel has the aura of the mythic, the magical, and that which is grounded in history.  Shors weaves psychological intrigue by looking at his characters’ competing desires: love, revenge, and meaning.  Both lyrical and deeply imaginative, Beside a Burning Sea confirms again that Shors is an immense talent.”
– Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club

Beside a Burning Sea is an astounding work. Poetic and cinematic as it illuminates the dark corners of human behavior, it is destined to be this decade’s The English Patient.”

“Shors has re-created a tragic place in time, when love for another was a person’s sole companion. He uses lyrical prose throughout the novel, especially in his series of haiku poems that plays an integral role in the love story, and develops accessible, sympathetic characters… Shors delves into the effects of war on each character, causing readers to attach themselves to the individuals yearning for home and the ones they love.”
Denver Rocky Mountain News

“Over two weekends at the pool last June, I lost myself in the wondrous Beside a Burning Sea, by John Shors …With love scenes, gripping action, and miraculously telling character details it all blends brilliantly to create a novel that’s easy to admire and impossible to dismiss.”
January Magazine (selected as one of the “Best Books of 2008” by January Magazine)

“It is impossible to read John Shors’ second novel (after Beneath a Marble Sky) without thinking what a great movie it would make. Beside a Burning Sea is wonderfully cinematic, with a cast of well-developed characters, major and minor, male and female, and of various races and backgrounds. Despite revealing who the villain is early on, Shors creates considerable suspense, and toward the end of the novel, the question of ‘what happens next?’ becomes ‘who will make it to the end?’… In Beside a Burning Sea, Shors has combined the classic desert island adventure with touching stories of love among the castaways. These elements provide an irresistible pull; Shors makes the reader a willing accomplice on this rewarding journey.”
Book Page

“While this story demonstrates all the horrors of war, it is also a lush, romantic tale about the healing power of love. The characters are compelling, the plot suspenseful, and the romance breathtaking. Shors is also the author of Beneath a Marble Sky, which I enjoyed tremendously. He is a wonderful storyteller, and I’m looking forward to his next book.”
Historical Novels Review

Beside a Burning Sea is the second novel by newcomer John Shors, who transports his readers to exotic locales through his exquisite prose and non-stop suspenseful action. Like his debut novel, Beneath a Marble Sky, Shors once again blends just the right touch of history and romance to create the ultimate love story. Beautifully descriptive and painstakingly romantic… Shors sails high above the uncharted seas.”
Fresh Fiction

“(Beside a Burning Sea) makes for a great read as one lazes around the pool or, especially, along the beach, a soft wind caressing one’s face, a palm tree in one’s sight, and imagination transported to a tropical isle where anything is possible in the name of love.”

“The key to this powerful WW II survivor drama is each cast member is fully developed with differing personalities and backgrounds; this leads to unexpected relationships as race, culture, social class, and war are explored through the interactions of the characters… John Shors provides a deep historical character study.”

“In Shors’ novel, restive, conscience-stricken men and women, haunted by the lives they have led, are offered a narrow window of opportunity to redeem themselves… The Pacific location, and the focus on shifting human destinies, inevitably invite comparisons with James A. Mitchener, an author who liked to stage his stories in the big world… This story of redemption, love and friendship is placed against a hideously distorted, morally arid world, one where the prophets, saints, and deities of the great religions have been silenced, but where human decency, even heroism, survives in small, fertile patches.”
The Japan Times

“Shors’s writing style… is exceptionally well-matched to the intricacies of its romance, while still conveying the suspense of the shipwreck and its aftermath. Beside a Burning Sea… will find, and deserves, a receptive and grateful audience.”

“John Shors delivers another flawless fiction in his upcoming second book Beside a Burning Sea… Shors wastes no time getting the action started while developing deep, multifaceted characters that you grow to love and despise. This is a story that considers the importance of self-examination and how that exploration can open new doors. Overall, the action in the beginning and end of the story, in addition to the devious behaviors of one of the characters creates a balance to the love story plots, enough to satisfy a diverse group of readers. I recommend putting Beside a Burning Sea on your wish list.
Static Multimedia

“John Shors sets his new novel in the tumultuous days of World War II, against the lush backdrop of a South Pacific island. Beside a Burning Sea is a story of love and loyalty, intrigue and betrayal, played out during a critical time in American history. Just as in Beneath a Marble Sky,Shors weaves together an intricate and marvelous tale of good and evil,catching the reader up in a terrific story set in an exotic locale.”
– Sandra Dallas, author of Tallgrass

“Shors’ novel begins, quite literally, with a bang and from there begins to construct deeply developed characters and relationships between the characters who survived the attack.”
Japan Today


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