In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow by Kenneth W. Harmon
Published: 1 August 2020
Publisher: Eiledon Press
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
Available: ebook, paperback
Sex: 💗 None
Violence:😧well there is the atomic bomb, but no much otherwise
Reviewers Note: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book can be pre-ordered now on amazon.com. Click the link on the book cover or the amazon button at the bottom for more information.
Author Bio: Kenneth W. Harmon lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife and daughters. The award winning author of four novels, he is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Japan-America Society of Colorado, and Historical Writers of America.
The Plot in Brief: (No spoilers!) Micah Lund is an American airman, a bombardier, with a hatred of Japan and its people firmly lodged in his heart. On a mission over Hiroshima, his plane is shot down and he falls to his death, landing at the feet of Kiyomi Oshiro. Kiyomi is a war widow, struggling to feed her young daughter and her demanding in-laws. Micah, to his surprise is dead, yet his spirit is very much alive and trapped in Japan. Kiyomi reacts to the dead man, her enemy, by offering a prayer for his soul. Micah has much to learn from this kind, deeply conformist woman, who rebels in her heart but not in her actions, about love and forgiveness.
The History: I know very little about Japanese culture so found the premise of this book fascinating, and I was not disappointed. Not only do we learn about the daily living conditions of the inhabitants of Hiroshima but also the attitudes of the Japanese people towards the war and their emperor. The author explores Japanese cultural and religious beliefs in depth. As the story unfolds we are treated to ancient fables and tales that carry the narrative. I especially enjoyed the description of the Buddhist afterlife, the journey to the River Sanzu and the story of Jizo Bosatsu, who helps children cross into the afterlife.
The Writing: I got lost in the poetic, lyrical quality of the writing, enveloped by the story, and felt if I closed my eyes I could imagine myself in Hiroshima. Kiyomi's gentle spirit inhabits the page and guides us along a path that we know will end in death and destruction. But despite the unleashing of an atomic weapon, surrounded by death and destruction, she remains true to herself, a devoted mother, unable to bear hatred against Micah. The narrative is lush, evocative, and surrounds the reader with the beauty of Japan and its cultural history.
Overall: I set aside my tight turn around time for this book review so that I could savor the story. Its slow pace lets you absorb the images and relish the unfolding love story. The layered nuanced narrative offers the reader hope that forgiveness is real, love can overcome all obstacles, and that human desires are not as different as we may be lead to believe. The book begs you to slow down and take some time to think about what really matters in life, reassess what is important, and question your values and moral judgments. In this current climate which fosters hate and suspicion and promotes cultural differences as something evil, its healing to read a tale about acceptance and understanding.
Recommendation: I think lovers of history and readers who like to explore other cultures and religions will enjoy this book immensely. Those already familiar with Shinto and Buddhist teachings will still appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story of Micah and Kiyomi.
I give this book (a rare) 5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
1 ⭐ Star: Not good at all, do not read!
2 ⭐⭐ Stars: Read only as a last resort, no other books available
3 ⭐⭐⭐Stars: Good, enjoyed it, will recommend with reservations
4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐Stars: Really good, read this book!
5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Stars: So good, I might read it again sometime! Highly recommend