Author: Kenneth W. Harmon
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: January 2, 2020
Add it to your shelf: Goodreads
“When bombardier Micah Lund dies on a mission over Hiroshima, his spirit remains trapped in the land of his enemies. Dazed, he follows Kiyomi Oshiro, a war widow struggling to care for her young daughter, Ai. Food is scarce, work at the factory is brutal, and her in-laws treat her like a servant. Watching Kiyomi and Ai together, Micah reconsiders his intolerance for the people he’d called the enemy. As his concern for the mother and daughter grows, so does his guilt for his part in their suffering.Micah finds a new reality when Kiyomi and Ai dream—one which allows him to interact with them. While his feelings for Kiyomi deepen, imminent destruction looms. Hiroshima is about to be bombed, and Micah must warn Kiyomi and her daughter. In a place where dreams are real, Micah races against time to save the ones he loves the most.In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow is a tale about love in its most extraordinary forms—forgiveness, sacrifice, and perseverance against impossible odds.”
I’ll start by saying I was granted access to this book for free on NetGalley, but that will not influence my review whatsoever.
This is a haunting tale of an American bombardier named Michah Lund who dies in enemy territory, in Hiroshima. His soul is stuck to the land and he wanders around following the first woman who saw him after his death, Kiyomi Oshiro. He hated Japan and its people and thought them to be nothing more than monsters who would stop at nothing to see his people dead and America destroyed, but as he wanders the land he comes to realize that this is not the truth. Not everyone is evil like he was led to believe, and he realizes that the people of Japan largely do not want to be a part of this war either.
The premise of this book is what most noticeably stood out to me. It seems to interesting to follow a real woman and see the city she is struggling to live in through the eyes of a ghost, a ghost of someone who should be an enemy. During the war there was so much hate on both sides, but people forgot about the ones left at home struggling to survive during day-to-day life. Many on both sides were overworked, underfed, and scared all day long. This story does a great job of highlighting what many must have endured during these wartimes even when they weren’t directly involved.
We also get to see things from the perspective of Ai, Kiyomi’s young daughter. It puts things into perspective to see stuff through a childlike perspective. She doesn’t care about the war or the why the emperor wants them to serve him proudly. She cares about everyone and wants things to go back to the way they were before the war. She brings a naïveté that can only come from a child and it brings a breath of optimism into an otherwise bleak setting.
As someone who has always had an interest in all things Japanese it was interesting to read about what Hiroshima would have been like during wartime. Seeing what everyone had to go through and how it changed the area, stripping it of its heritage in an effort to dispel the looming threat of the Americans, was not something I can say was fun to read but it was definitely enlightening. The way they talked about getting read of anything with American origins: music, movies, and clothes to name a few was sad and felt like such a waste. This happened on both sides in order to not let anything get in the way of the goal of the war.
The story opens up in more diverse and interesting ways as he begins to talk and interact with other spirits wandering the land. He meets the spirits of two men who act a as guides through this afterlife he has found himself in and he learns about the ways he can come in contact with the living. He originally thought that he wouldn’t be able to have any type of relationship with Kiyomi or her family but he learns about a method in which he could.
I won’t delve deeper into the story as to avoid spoilers, but I really enjoyed the way it was told from both Micah’s perspective as a spirit and Kiyomi’s perspective in the living world. It added a dynamic that made the story feel like something all it’s own. I felt like it started a bit slow, but it picked up fairly quickly and held my attention violently through to the gripping conclusion.
I never really gave much thought to the way these wars affected the civilians on the other side, and this was an eye opening look into that world. The Japanese people were particularly distressed due to the high level of responsibility they had to hold to all members of their life. The women especially had to do what they were told and were not allowed to question anything. I can definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction, or just the history of Japan in general. I have always been fascinated by Japan and seeing it in this new light was great for me.
As always thank you so much for reading, and if you think this sounded like an interesting premise let me know in the comments below, or feel free to reach out to me on social media! Check back for new posts (at least) every Wednesday and Saturday, or sign-up via email to make sure you never miss anything!