2001 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award Shortlist:
: 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
From Publishers Weekly
No matter how far they travel from Hiroshima, the protagonists of Canadian author Bock's roomy, thoughtful novel are marked by the effects of the atomic bomb. For Emiko Amai, the imprint lingers on her face, in the form of burn scars from the heat of the bomb's detonation in 1945, when she was six. For Anton Bll, a refugee German scientist who helped build the bomb, the scars are emotional, though he tried to transform his feelings into images in a series of secret films shot among Hiroshima's ruined buildings. For Sophie, Anton's wife herself a half-Jewish refugee from Austria there is the pain of exile, a debilitating illness and the heavy shadow of her husband's guilt. Though Anton claims that the bomb was dropped "to save lives," he remains acutely aware of the human cost, both to its victims and himself: "I know the world requires a certain payment from us... for the freedoms we enjoy. We have all paid." When Emiko confronts Anton in 1995 at a lecture in New York, he surprises himself by agreeing to participate in a documentary she's filming. He invites Emiko to the quiet house he shares with Sophie in Ontario, and as Sophie declines toward death, Anton tells Emiko all the ways he has influenced her life since Hiroshima. In his attempt to obliquely represent the overwhelming horrors of Hiroshima's destruction, Bock (Olympia) has created a group of characters with closely guarded emotional lives. When they reveal themselves, it's in flashes as brilliant as the splitting of the atom. (Sept. 11)Forecast: Though his novel cannot touch a nonfiction classic like John Hersey's Hiroshima, and may be overlooked in the crowded ranks of WWII-inspired fiction, Bock acquits himself well. A first printing of 60,000 copies and a six-city author tour attest to Knopf's faith in this sophomore effort.
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