I prefer not to write bad reviews. It goes against my nature. I would rather focus on what things I value in a work, even a work that misses the mark for me. That said, I want to start by focusing on what Dennis Bock does brilliantly in The Ash Garden: he writes superb characters. Bock uses remarkable precision in introducing readers to the three central figures in his book: Anton, who 50 years earlier worked on the first atomic bomb; Sophie, Anton's lupus-afflicted wife; and Emiko, who was hideously scarred as a child by the blast at Hiroshima. One really gets to know these characters, where they come from, what motivates them. The characters are so superbly drawn in fact that one wishes their story could be more interesting.
Sadly, as I read The Ash Garden, I kept thinking of the sewers of Paris. In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo goes off on a lengthy tangent depicting the Paris sewers, detailing them and mapping them with words. It ranks among the most tedious prose of all time.With Hugo, however, getting to know the sewers means the reader will meet them again in the future, likely at a time when they have more of interest to offer. The Ash Garden, by contrast, never seems to promise so much. For me, even as the book neared its conclusion, I felt as if still mired in the exposition.
The good news is that history buffs and anyone curious about that day at Hiroshima will find much insight in the The Ash Garden. It seems to be ideally targeted to readers with a taste for non-fiction but who nonetheless occasionally stray into more literary realms. For everyone else, watching these three characters resolve 50-year-old issues and explore relatively ambiguous connections resulting from the Hiroshima blast may prove too tiresome to be worth the effort. Recommendation: instead, go dust off Les Miserables from its shelf in the attic.