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August 15, 2020

In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow by Kenneth W. Harmon ~ a Review

by MK French


Micah Lund dies during a mission over Hiroshima, and his spirit follows a young widow and her daughter. Watching over Kyomi and Ai gives him more understanding of the people he had thought were the enemy, and he feels guilty about his part in the war. He can interact with them in dreams and now needs to warn them about the upcoming bombings.
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In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow
August 2020; Eiledon Publishing; B083Q4WRPD
ebook, print (354 pages); Japanese fiction
The fact that we have a spirit following Kyomi and Ai throughout their daily life in Hiroshima means there's an element of the fantastic along with the realism in the book. Kyomi lives with her parents in law and has to cook and clean for them, work long hours in the rifle factory, and deal with their snide comments. She lives there for the sake of honor, duty, and maintaining a home for her and her daughter. The supervisor and some neighbors also look down on women, as it's a very patriarchal society. People are starving, as food and supplies are shunted to the soldiers fighting on the Emperor's orders; Kyomi and Ai have to forage for supplies, beg from people Kyomi knows, and even go far into the countryside to look for scraps. Those sequences remind me so much of the anime Grave of the Fireflies, especially when Ai is playing with fireflies. That movie is so well done and so sad, and this book is the same. Knowing they live in Hiroshima means we know what's coming even if they don't, and the worst is yet to come.

I appreciate the attention to detail in the Japanese culture, the nuance of family dynamics, and how the people lived in the midst of the war. We see a bit about Micah's past when he visits his deceased brother and has visions of his parents. There is discussion of religion, the afterlife, and superstitions of the Japanese people. I didn't expect to see everyone as spirits, though I really shouldn't have been surprised by that given that we have Micah as a spirit after he fell to his death in chapter one. It's such a melancholy feel in the final third of the novel because there's so much death and suffering following the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow is a well researched and written book, and left me with a book hangover afterward, with emotions lingering long after I put it down.


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Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.
 

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