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The Other Side of the World    by Jay Neugeboren order for
Other Side of the World
by Jay Neugeboren
Order:  USA  Can
Two Dollar Radio, 2012 (2012)
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Charlie Eisner has moved to Singapore looking for excitement, having been talked into it by his college friend Nick. He has a good job in sales at Nick's company, and although he doesn't care much for Singapore, he loves Borneo, where he frequently travels on business or just for the pleasure of experiencing the sights and sounds of the rapidly disappearing jungle.

The first time he went to Borneo on business, he was appalled at the destruction of forest and habitat, leaving a huge muddy field which was to be planted with palm trees which would produce the lucrative palm oil that his company sells. He was saddened at the loss of the jungle, the displacement of the native fauna, and what he knew would be the devastation of the people who lived there and had previously gained their livelihood within the forest. The native plants were necessary to feed the native animals, which the people ate. The whole ecological disaster is recounted in the early pages of the book, but in such a way that they complement the story, rather than detract from it.

Suddenly Nick dies in a tragic accident. The drunken Nick, who had been arguing with a drunken Charlie, lunges at him on a balcony of his apartment during a party, and when Charlie leaps out of the way, Nick falls off the balcony to his death below. Charlie returns to New England on a mission to meet with Nick's parents and ex-wife. He returns to his father's home and finds Seana O'Sullivan living there. Seana was a student of his father's when he taught college, and both his father and Seana are fiction writers. Seana has become a bestselling author of two books, and has moved in with his father after buying unfinished manuscripts from him that she is considering finishing. Although Seana is several years older than Charlie, he has had a crush on her since he first met her as a boy.

There are stories within stories in this interesting book. First we meet Charlie in Singapore and hear about what actually happened to Nick. Later Seana encourages Charlie to write a story, which is called Charlie's Story. Purported to be fiction, it tells a slightly different account of what happened to Nick. We hear about Charlie's father, both the version of his history that he has always known, and another version that turns up in a letter he wrote to Charlie. There is enough conflict to keep the reader's interest, and the differing stories lead one to wonder what actually did happen. By the end we have a pretty good idea of the truth, but we also have to consider what is truth in a novel, and what we might want the truth to be.

I really enjoyed this thought-provoking novel. There is something for every reader: a good story, with complications; another story to make you wonder about the first; difficulties on the part of the hero and others; and finally a resolution that's satisfying and yet, perhaps, not quite the end of the story. Jay Neugeboren is certainly a talented weaver of tales, and The Other Side of the World is an enjoyable example.

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