The Ash Garden

Bock, Dennis

Published by Vintage, 2003
ISBN 10: 0375727493 / ISBN 13: 9780375727498
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Synopsis: Emiko Amai is six years old in August 1945 when the Hiroshima bomb burns away half of her face. To Anton, a young German physicist involved in the Manhattan Project, that same bomb represents the pinnacle of scientific elegance. And for his Austrian wife Sophie, a Jewish refugee, it marks the start of an irreparable fissure in their new marriage.

Fifty years later, seemingly far removed from the day that defined their lives, Emiko visits Anton and Sophie, and in Dennis Bock’s powerfully imagined narrative, their histories converge.

Review: The unprecedented impact, ideology, and geographic scope of the Second World War continue to attract new novelists who hammer the history out a little thinner each time, highlighting lesser-known massacres or sifting through minor characters to discover a representative but undiscovered guide. Dennis Bock's poignant book The Ash Garden personalizes the epic bombing of Hiroshima through Anton Böll, a German émigré physicist, and Emiko, a Japanese victim of the bomb. Bombmaker and bombed, they balance this incisive, symmetrical novel and its sustained inquiry into remorse and forgiveness.

One of 25 Hiroshima Maidens relocated from post-war Japan to America for corrective plastic surgery, Emiko remains in the U.S. as a student, then as a filmmaker. The novel is at its best with her, from the heavy losses that surround her recovery in Japan to the awkwardness of immigrating to the nation that is both her tormentor and her savior. Meanwhile, Anton, her opposite number, doesn't just return home from war, he returns having irrevocably changed war. Stubbornly proud of his work and estranged from his isolated, ailing wife, Anton offers no home to remorse, and his conflicted legacy takes a lifetime to heal. Heal it does, though, just as Anton and Emiko meet and begin to discuss their roles in the bombing. The climax may be too much for readers impatient with a Dickensian full-cast ending: like those of John Irving, Bock's symmetries are delightful to discover at the halfway point but disappointingly conspicuous by the novel's close. --Darryl Whetter

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Title: The Ash Garden
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2003
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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