IN THE REALM OF ASH AND SORROW
Kenneth W. Harmon
Eiledon Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (04/2020)
Kenneth W. Harmon’s historical fiction novel, “In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow” is set in Hiroshima during WWII before and leading up to the deployment of the first atomic bomb. It’s a bittersweet tale of love, loss, and the ultimate sacrifice as unimaginable devastation alters Japan, and the world forever.
The story follows Micah Lund, a bombardier who dies while on a mission over Hiroshima, Kiyomi Oshiro, a war widow, and her young daughter, Ai. In disbelief that he is dead, and in Hiroshima of all places, Micah is convinced he is in some kind of hell. Kiyomi finds Micah’s body after the crash and the two are bound together by a force neither one can identify. As Micah observes Kiyomi and Ai, he begins to see Japan and its people in a new light, causing him guilt and remorse over his part in the war. The dream world opens as a way for them to communicate and as feelings deepen, danger escalates. It’s a race against time for both the living and the dead but who can survive an attack such as the world has never before seen?
Wow. There are very few books that move me such as “In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow” has done. To say it is a remarkable story would be a complete understatement and I find myself struggling to express the impact this novel had on me, and the impact it is likely to elicit from everyone who reads it. So, let’s take it one step at a time as I try to do this amazing book justice through this review.
Harmon takes readers deep inside WWII Japan through a story that engages with haunting authenticity while also introducing a magical realism that creates an atmosphere unparalleled with anything I’ve ever read before. The writing is eloquent and lyrical and truly keeps you glued to the pages. Harmon fashions a visual landscape through his words that makes the readers a part of the story. I often felt like I was Micah, watching the events unfold before my very eyes, with a desperate angst that there was nothing I could do but hold on. The story flows effortlessly and yet I often stopped to consider the amount of research that must have gone into relaying such historical detail in a way that mesmerizes, and I am in complete awe at the author’s ability to create such an astounding narrative.
It is my opinion that novels of excellence are character driven and “In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow” takes character driven to a whole other level. Harmon’s characters are distinctive, portraying vulnerability, strength, determination, pride, despair, hope – the full spectrum of traits and emotions that enmesh readers to them and make them care from the deepest levels of their hearts. I wanted to take Kiyomi and Ai in my arms and comfort them. I wanted to strike Kiyomi’s in-laws, such was the level of repulsion I felt at their treatment of Kiyomi. I wanted to laugh and drink Sake with the men at the harbor. Most of all, I wanted justice for the people of Japan and for everyone affected by the horrific nature of the war. Every single character touched a part of my heart.
Historical fiction, war, romance, humor, magical realism, “In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow,” by Kenneth W. Harmon is an incredible story with something for everyone. It’s truly a story that will stay with you for a long, long time and I highly recommend it. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite some time. Thank you, Mr. Harmon for the honor and pleasure of reading, “In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow.”