In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow
In 1945, near the close of World War II, Micah Lund is in a B-29 flying over Hiroshima, Japan. His plane doesn’t carry bombs, however; instead, the payload released is pamphlets, warning the inhabitants of the city to flee before real bombs come. Miles below, Kiyomi Oshiro goes about her daily business. She deals with her in-laws, brings her daughter Ai to school, and goes to her work in a factory. On the way, she sees the pamphlets fall but acts as though she hasn’t read one, for fear of being arrested by the military police.
She sees something else fall from the sky that day: hit by flak, Micah’s plane cannot make it away from Japan to the relative safety of the ocean. He and the rest of the crew must bail out, and Kiyomi sees his body fall to the earth. Micah sees her as well, but when Kiyomi turns away without acknowledging an American man looking at her, he realizes he is dead, somehow trapped in Hiroshima as a ghost.
Helpless to do anything but watch and speak to other ghosts, Micah follows Kiyomi, finding the humanity in a woman he would otherwise only have seen as an enemy. In time, he learns he can speak to Kiyomi and Ai through their dreams, bringing him even closer to the pair. Micah finds himself beginning to care for the two, even though he knows as an American soldier it’s the last thing he should do.
And all the while, August 6th and the atomic bomb come ever closer, known only to the readers.
In his book, Kenneth Harmon presents an ambitious tale through a small scope. The story of the end of the war is told through the eyes of two people, and over time focuses more on their relationship than on the war itself, which looms over them but only occasionally intrudes outright. At its best, the book is gentle and meditative, enthralling without being overwhelming. Kiyomi and Micah grow subtly but noticeably, and the side characters are each memorable without being caricatures. Unfortunately, the book is not always at its best. While Kiyomi’s chapters are filled with Japanese culture. At times the sheer amount mentioned (and subsequently explained to the reader) becomes too much and makes her seem less like a fully realized character and more like a collection of Japanese cultural information.
Overall, however, the book is a fascinating, heartbreaking read and a beautifully human balance to the often heavily militarized view of the war. While that view is understandable, it’s good to be reminded that wars are made up of people who live and die, not just machines and hard data.
|Kenneth W. Harmon
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