I feel like reading a book about Hiroshima was what really pulled me in to this novel, and I thank Isobel at Blackthorn Book Tours for this opportunity to read and review this book for a blog tour. I remember going to Hiroshima for the first time and I was in tears almost the whole time. Being there and seeing the memorials for Sadako and the others that were killed by the atomic bomb – both instantly and years later through radiation – made me feel like I was surrounded by the ghosts of the past.
This book may not have been specifically about what happened in Hiroshima during WWII or anything, but having a book that takes place there had the opportunity to mean something special to me.
1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”….
Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.
Bob Van Laerhoven is a 66-year-old Belgian/Flemish author who has published (traditionally) more than 45 books in Holland and Belgium. His cross-over oeuvre between literary and noir/suspense is published in French, English, German, Spanish, Swedish, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Russian. A Chinese translation is currently in production.
In Belgium, Laerhoven was a four-time finalist of the ‘Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year’ with the novels ‘Djinn’, ‘The Finger of God’, ‘Return to Hiroshima’, and ‘The Firehand Files’. In 2007, he became the winner of the coveted Hercule Poirot Prize with ‘Baudelaire’s Revenge’, which, in English translation, also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category ‘mystery/suspense’. His first collection of short stories ‘Dangerous Obsessions’, published in the USA in 2015, was chosen as the ‘best short story collection of 2015’ by the San Diego Book Review. The collection has been translated into Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. ‘Return to Hiroshima’, his second crime novel in English, was published in May 2018 by Crime Wave Press(Hong Kong). The British quality review blog Murder, Mayhem & More has chosen ‘Return to Hiroshima’ as one of the ten best international crime novels of 2018. MMM reviews around 200 novels annually by international authors. Also in 2018, the Anaphora Literary Press published ‘Heart Fever’, his second collection of short stories. ‘Heart Fever’ was one of the five finalists of the American Silver Falchion Award. Laerhoven was the only non-American finalist. The collection has been translated into Italian and Spanish. A German translation is currently in production.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Crime Wave Press and Blackthorn Book Tours for this free copy.
Books like this, where the setting or the content of the plot, something to do with the book basically, has some sort of meaning to me, are hard to read sometimes. I don’t even know if that sentence above made sense to me or whoever is reading this, but basically having this book take place in Hiroshima and having the main characters and some of the other characters feeling the effects of what happened back in WWII just stirred up emotions in me that I don’t always feel. For one, learning about this part of history and having family members on both sides of the war makes it difficult to be on one side or the other. I don’t think it’s even really about sides at this point, but that history hurts.
I honestly don’t think it was very clear what else happened in Japan, or even China and Korea during WWII that wasn’t widely known or told. I think we are still in the dark about a lot of the horrors that they had to face on a daily basis. So it was hard for me to read a book where one of the main plot lines dealt with experiments that were done during WWII. Even if they were real or not, if these were hidden to the point that how the world would look at both the Imperial family and society as a whole would completely change, that just sounds terrifying to me.
Now for the actual book, now that I got that part out of the way.
Something about this book was truly haunting, and I am actually really impressed and grateful that Van Laerhoven did justice to the Japanese people and culture in this novel. Coming from someone who has absolutely no Japanese blood in him, or even explicit ties, it could have been a hit or miss. This was definitely a hit, and I think he did a great job at making sure that this book didn’t become problematic with the representation.
I’m not used to crime thrillers, or ultra-noir books like this one is, so I really had to take my time with it. I had to make sure that I was understanding the subtext and the nuances that were going on in here that isn’t explicitly stated for me like I’m used to. Sure, I can deal with symbolism and foreshadowing and stuff like that, but I’m never one to be completely thrown off by the plot or a twist that comes up later on, or a direction that a book ends up taking. This was one of those where I dedicated a lot more of my time and attention to make sure that I was appreciating the book the way it was intended.
There’s always the slight chance that exploring such a dark period in history – especially since this wasn’t that far in the past – could lead to being insensitive or just portrayed disrespectfully. I think Van Laerhoven took that chance, and he did the research that he needed to, in order to ensure that he wasn’t either of those things. This was not a light read by any means, despite the short chapters. The subject is gruesome, the content is difficult, and I would say that one would need to go into this book with a clear mind, and be in the right mental mindset to deal with something like this. Now, once you do that, sit back and go through this journey. I don’t think you will regret it.
Phew! That was a lot of text, fam! Sorry about that. I hope that you enjoyed my review, and make sure to check out Blackthorn Book Tours if you’re into these kinds of novels. Blackthorn specializes in tours like this one. Even if you’re trying to break out of your comfort zone like me, I’m sure you’ll find a book you’ll end up enjoying. Until next time, fam.