Book: The Ash Garden

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The Ash Garden

Author: Dennis Bock
Publisher: Vintage

A scientist stealing across the Pyrenees into Spain, then smuggled into America…

A young woman quarantined on a ship wandering the Atlantic, her family stranded in Austria…

A girl playing on a riverbank as a solitary airplane appears on the horizon…

Lives already in motion, unsettled by war, and about to change beyond reckoning—their pasts blurred and their destinies at once defined and distorted by an inconceivable event. For that man was bound for the desert of Los Alamos, the woman unexpectedly en route to a refugee camp, the girl at Ground Zero and that plane the Enola Gay. In August of 1945, in a blinding flash, Hiroshima sees the dawning of the modern age.

With these three people, Dennis Bock transforms a familiar story—the atom bomb as a means to end worldwide slaughter—into something witnessed, as if for the first time, in all its beautiful and terrible power. Destroyer of Worlds. With Anton and Sophie and Emiko, with the complete arc of their histories and hopes, convictions and regrets, The Ash Garden is intricate yet far-reaching: from market streets in Japan to German universities, from New York tenements to, ultimately, a peaceful village in Ontario. Revealed here, as their fates triangulate, are the true costs and implications of a nightmare that has persisted for more than half a century.

In its reserves of passion and wisdom, in its grasp of pain and memory, in its balance of ambition and humanity, this first novel is an astonishing triumph.


The unprecedented impact, ideology, and geographic scope of the Second World War continue to attract new novelists who hammer the history out a little thinner each time, highlighting lesser-known massacres or sifting through minor characters to discover a representative but undiscovered guide. Dennis Bock’s poignant book The Ash Garden personalizes the epic bombing of Hiroshima through Anton Böll, a German émigré physicist, and Emiko, a Japanese victim of the bomb. Bombmaker and bombed, they balance this incisive, symmetrical novel and its sustained inquiry into remorse and forgiveness.

One of 25 Hiroshima Maidens relocated from post-war Japan to America for corrective plastic surgery, Emiko remains in the U.S. as a student, then as a filmmaker. The novel is at its best with her, from the heavy losses that surround her recovery in Japan to the awkwardness of immigrating to the nation that is both her tormentor and her savior. Meanwhile, Anton, her opposite number, doesn’t just return home from war, he returns having irrevocably changed war. Stubbornly proud of his work and estranged from his isolated, ailing wife, Anton offers no home to remorse, and his conflicted legacy takes a lifetime to heal. Heal it does, though, just as Anton and Emiko meet and begin to discuss their roles in the bombing. The climax may be too much for readers impatient with a Dickensian full-cast ending: like those of John Irving, Bock’s symmetries are delightful to discover at the halfway point but disappointingly conspicuous by the novel’s close. —Darryl Whetter

Barnes and Noble

The characters in Dennis Bock’s thoughtful first novel find their lives revolving around the axis of an explosive act—the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, and all of its shocking reverberations, from Japan to New York to a small village in Canada.

Employing the voices of three separate characters—a scientist en route to Los Alamos, a woman under quarantine on a ship in the Atlantic, and a young Japanese girl watching as a plane slowly draws nearer in the sky—Bock’s tale wields a quiet power that builds steadily as he details the lives of these three characters and the repercussions of one unfathomable act of war.

Each of the characters in this work is scarred, whether physically or psychically, by what they have witnessed. And each of them has a story to tell another, until a perfect triangle is formed between the three.

From the first few riveting pages, Dennis Bock proves himself a literary talent worthy of the attentiveness his novel demands. Poised to stand alongside John Hersey’s classic work of nonfiction, Hiroshima, The Ash Garden is a heartrending examination of the all-too-human dilemmas faced by the participants, both willing and unwilling, in a historic event that continues to shape our modern world and attitudes. (Fall 2001 Selection)

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