26 December 2007

Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden, 2001

The Ash Garden is impressive though, it’s fair to say, challenging and certainly not straightforward. It explores a question often posited and explored: what happens when a Hiroshima survivor comes face to face with one of the ‘perpetrators’ of the Bomb? In that respect The Ash Garden is rooted very much in reality, and takes some necessary liberties with actual events, such as the meetings on US television that first explored this idea, and which are revisited in a slightly fictionalised version for this book (John Hersey’s Hiroshima provides the factual version).

There is a twist ahead, however, and one that is so fundamental and unexpected that it might not please every reader – it almost shook the story apart for me, but what held it together was the subsequent and important changes the author makes to the relationships between the three main characters. If that makes the characters sound contrived, that’s because they possibly are, though Bock never loses sight of the inescapable history that drives the people he’s writing about, or their fundamental essence. By the end of the story they feel real enough, though I still can’t decide if the twist to their relationship is entirely justified or necessary. The reader just has to hang on and see where it ends up, though it’s certainly a journey worth taking.   PY

  The Ash Garden was shortlisted for both the 2001 Kiriyama Prize for fiction and the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

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