Thursday, May 18, 2017

After the Bloom

Title:  After the Bloom
Author:  Leslie Shimotakahara
Publication Information:  Dundum. 2017. 328 pages.
ISBN:  1459737431 / 978-1459737433

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Their house had always been a wreck."

Favorite Quote:  "For so long no one talked about anything - it was like those memories of the internment years never even existed. Massive blackouts, collective amnesia. Just put it all behind you, block it all out, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, move the **** on. The first step in rebuilding community is allowing those memories to surface."

After the Bloom is a story structured in a commonly used framework - two time periods, two women, a daughter trying to untangle the puzzle of her mother. The broader context of the past is a sad part of United States history - the internment of the Japanese in the United States during World War. The reprecussions of this history are felt today in the community who suffered through it and in others who fear that history may one day repeat itself.

Many books have taken this approach to this history - The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, and perhaps my favorite, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The history is a sad and shameful one as citizens of the country were stripped of rights and freedom and treated as potential criminals because of their ethnic heritage. This book takes a different approach to the camps in that it does not just show the conditions and privations forced from the outside. It also shows the strife within as different people struggle to deal with this reality. There is talk of peace and acceptance, and there is talk of rebellion.

The personal story in this book is that of Lily Takemitsu, who is a young adult when her family is forced into interment. Hers is a story of the camp but also a story of a young woman who seems to have no healthy male relationships ever in her life. She talks about neither, such that her daughter Rita has no idea what her mother has gone through. Rita's life is 1980s Toronto with a mother who disappears. Rita is not surprise as this has happened before, but this time, Lily does not return and cannot be found. In her search, Rita discovers the truth of her mother's past and of her own heritage.

What I find intriguing is the theme of shame and something not to be talked about that is evident throughout the book. Lily feels the shame of her background and never talked about it to her daughter or her husband. Those in the internment camps are wrongly made to feel ashamed of their heritage. The country is ashamed of this history such that kids grow up not ever learning about it. The glimmer of a bigger message is there in the book; it just never makes its way forcefully out.

The key to a historical fiction for me is the balance between history and fiction. The fiction should bring the history to life and bring emotion to historical facts; the characters become anchors for the history. By the same token, the history should become the central drama and conflict of the fictional story.

In this book, the fiction and the history take two different paths. While Lily's story is set in the World War II internment camps, it is much more of a story of a young woman with troubling relationships - her father, her daughter's father, and others she meets at the camp. The same story could be set in a completely different context and still be essential the same personal story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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