THE ASH GARDEN by Dennis Bock
Kirkus Star



An intellectually demanding, yet emotionally affecting, first novel by short-story writer Bock (Olympia, 1999) tackles the large philosophical and ethical questions raised by Hiroshima.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time, developing the three main characters’ private histories since WWII as they move inexorably toward recognition, and perhaps resolution, of their connected fates. In August 1945, six-year-old Emiko Amai is playing on a riverbank with her younger brother. While he and her parents die, she survives the bombing horribly disfigured. At 16, she is chosen to have reconstructive surgery in America, where she spends her adult life. Her strength remains her ability to endure pain in silence. In 1995, now a filmmaker documenting the aftermath of the bombing, she approaches one of the scientists responsible, Anton Böll. A young physicist in 1940, Böll escaped Germany less for reasons of morality than because he recognized that his science would be better utilized in America. He ends up at Los Alamos and then in Hiroshima itself. There he begins to film what he sees, at first to communicate to his wife Sophie, then increasingly as a private record of the horror he witnesses. But in his self-absorbed pain he loses any sense of Sophie. A refugee from Austria whose family did not survive the Nazis, she finds herself desperately isolated. Like Emiko, she lives within a certain silence and with secret pain. Emiko ends up at Böll’s rural home to view Anton's films just as Sophie enters the last stage of lupus. Bock does a lovely job of creating subtle, overlapping images—shadows, scars, elderly men’s silhouettes—but his authorial reticence is even more effective: his characters remain hauntingly elusive even as they reveal themselves.

A shattering yet generous story not merely about survival guilt or scientific ethics, but the imperfection and resilience of the human condition.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41302-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001


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