Review of After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara
Rating : 3/5
Lily Takemitsu goes missing from her home in Toronto one luminous summer morning in the mid-1980s. Her daughter, Rita, knows her mother has a history of dissociation and memory problems, which have led her to wander off before. But never has she stayed away so long. Unconvinced the police are taking the case seriously, Rita begins to carry out her own investigation. In the course of searching for her mom, she is forced to confront a labyrinth of secrets surrounding the family’s internment at a camp in the California desert during the Second World War, their postwar immigration to Toronto, and the father she has never known. Epic in scope, intimate in style, After the Bloom blurs between the present and the ever-present past, beautifully depicting one family’s struggle to face the darker side of its history and find some form of redemption.
My Review :
As I am not an avid reader of Japanese fiction, with the exception of a few Murakami novels which I read occasionally, Leslie Shimotakahara’s novel held a lot of unique experiences for me. The book gave me a window to the Japanese culture, lifestyle, folk stories and many other aspects. However, the biggest revelation about Japanese citizens was the forceful internment of Japanese Americans in camps across America during WW II. Although many of the atrocities committed during the war have been revealed and publicised sooner or later, the Japanese internment was never a common knowledge. It could possibly be the result of the stoic character of the Japanese folks and their nature of letting bygones be bygones. When the topic of interment was touched upon in this book, for a moment I even thought that this was merely a fictional event. Yet, on analysing the situation, I felt that it was beyond fiction and as usual Wikipedia aided me with all the relevant facts. What bothered me the most, apart from the inhuman act of uprooting legal citizens from their normal life to some unknown camps, was that this act appeared to be purely racially motivated as the Japanese Americans was found not to be a threat to the security of the country. I have to admit that this book was extremely successful in highlighting the issue of Japanese internment to ignorant readers like me.
Adding a few links and images of internment sourced from web :
The novel alternates between Lily’s past and the present where Rita searches for her missing mother. Although Lily is introduced as an old woman with a weak memory and a penchant for cooking up stories about her past, Shimotakahara has given a solid backstory for Lily filled with suffering, abandonment and heartbreak. How from a spirited and carefree teenager preparing for a Japanese beauty pageant, she gets transformed to the vulnerable and modest Lily of the present. How her undying devotion for a man not only broke her heart but her life too. Rita, as a contrast to Lily, is shown as a strong independent woman, who loves her mother irrespective of their differences. She shoulders the responsibility of finding her mother and also digging up the details from Lily’s troubled past to understand the plight of her mother better.
Although the story is poignant, the writing falters at certain points. Lily’s past life gets a bit slow-paced at some points, though interspersing it with Rita’s present life fortunately was a good plan. The usage of Japanese terms like Issei, Nisei etc. can kind of get you off track if you are not familiar with them. Although Google eventually helped me to understand the meaning, it did leave a few gaps for me while I was reading the book. There were also many side characters apart from the main protagonists who did not get their fair share of the backstory. There were no unique identifiers to keep them fresh in our minds. So, when a sudden character reference came, I was left in a lurch as to who this person was. Apart from these minor flaws, the book was a good reading experience nonetheless. Towards the second half, the pace of the story picked up when Rita’s search for her mother stepped up a notch with various controversial information from her past also being revealed.
Overall, a slow paced read with plenty of information about Japanese internment. If you are a fan of Japanese culture and history, then you can try reading this book. Lovers of Women’s fiction can also give this book a try.
I had received the e-copy of this book from Net Galley and Dundurn Press in exchange of an honest review and this does not influence my opinion about the book.