Summary and book reviews of The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock

The Ash Garden

By Dennis Bock

The Ash Garden
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2001,
    281 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2003,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter 1

We had very little in the days when the war was still far away, in the remote place I imagined all wars lived when I was a girl. When it finally came to our city in August 1945 it consumed what little we had left, and years later, when there was nothing left at all, I was forced to journey to America to begin my surgeries. Of course, when I was a child it had seemed to me that what we'd had in those early days was sufficient. All but the barest necessities had been taken from us, but we didn't know any better. I often thought of the war as some great famished beast that ate away at the heart of my people. But my family was no different from any other family in the Asaminami district, the area of the city we lived in, and my brother and I never missed what we'd never had. I do not know if our parents and grandfather felt the same way.

In what might seem a rare gift in the legacy of my family's suffering, my mother and father were lucky enough to die at ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Quill and Quire

The Ash Garden is a controlled explosion of a story, hugely energetic, powerful, and complex...Bock's writing is both dense and immensely readable, as engaging when it focuses on life's minutiae as when it explores life's catastrophes. THE ASH GARDEN is difficult to forget and it rewards repeated readings in a way that few novels can.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

Dennis Bock's searching, ambitious first novel tells the intertwining stories of two people from opposite sides of the world who have spent their lives learning to live with the bomb [and] quickly hardens into a crystalline meditation on the defining event of the 20th century and its aftermath... Inventive [and] consistently challenging.

Kirkus Reviews

An intellectually demanding, yet emotionally affecting, first novel by short-story writer Bock (Olympia, 1999) tackles the large philosophical and ethical questions raised by Hiroshima.

Booklist

Written in richly described flashbacks that slowly reveal the characters' almost surreal connections, this deceptively understated novel asks crucial questions about how to live and reconcile history in an atomic age.

Library Journal

From its achingly sad opening to its haunting conclusion, this riveting novel explores the moral ambiguities of war while illuminating a shameful moment in our collective history. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Leon Rooke
The Ash Garden can stand comparison with the best novels of our time. It is magnificent.

Author Blurb Wayson Choy
Dennis Bock creates his disturbing universe in the manner of the great moralists like Shusaku Endo or Athol Fugard. Grounding the two predominant man-made horrors of the last century in the lives of his three main characters, Bock's risk-taking imagination, his compassionate intelligence and superb writing, make The Ash Garden an evocative must-read experience.

Reader Reviews
A.K.

Extremely Boring
I have to read this book for my English class and I have to say it's absolutely the worst book I have ever read! There is no action, no suspense, no drama, no irony, etc; I cannot find anything in this book that would make it interesting in the ...   Read More

Sasha Itterman

I give this book a 5. I am 16, and when I first read this book a year ago I thought it was amazing. I loved Dennis Bock's writing style and I think that he did a very good job of showing 3 different points of view on one subject. He didn't just show ...   Read More

Balzac Fan

This book is nothing but an American bashing, cliche-ridden snooze-fest. The main character, Anton, is a typical science geek who is so smart he doesn't realize his own power...gulp...until it's too late. Oh where have I read this before? How about ...   Read More

WS

Idea was great, but execution long drawn-out and ultimately boring. Characters props for author's purpose, not real people.

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