P.A. Rudders's Reviews > Return to Hiroshima

Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven
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it was amazing

A darkly poignant dive into the underbelly of Japanese lore and mystery ...

Steeped in intricacy and too many horrors waiting to jump out of the shadows as each element of the story begins to find its place, it would be impossible to do justice to any sort of plot summary here. Suffice to say, the reader is taken on one hell of a dark and often upsetting journey: a seven-foot woman haunted by either real or imaginary memories of childhood horrors and abuse, an investigation into the murder of a newborn child, a secret and clandestine wartime medical experiments, and Japanese suicide cults are just some of the pieces of this internationally flavoured noir thriller.

Despite this being a translation from the original, the writing is fluid and well-crafted, with clearly a great deal of effort having gone into maintaining the tone and feel of the original text. The complexity of the story is cleverly broken up into short, easily digestible chapters, each with their own little prelude as it were. I liked too the way the author alternates the point of view between that of the central and mysterious female character, Mitsuko, and the third-person perspectives of the other characters amid the wider story and sub-plots going on. 

This is a book that challenges the reader to step outside their comfort zone in terms of what they might be familiar with culturally, and perhaps their perceptions of Japanese culture and society. Quite apart from the story of Mitsuko, the author skilfully contrasts the western view of Japan (or Nippon as he refers to it in the narrative), managing to incorporate the Japanese fascination with Karaoke bars, manga comics, and the deeper philosophical and religious beliefs that underpin people's lives in that part of the world, alongside an enduring sense of nationalism even among its younger generation. The reader gets to witness Japanese society from the perspective of its native population, visiting westerners, and, as in the case of police inspector Takeda, who despite being half-Japanese, doesn't quite fit in with or enjoys the full 'acceptance' and respect of his peers.  As can probably be guessed from the title, the historical significance of Hiroshima and the aftermath of the nuclear blast are a recurring influence in how the story unfolds, though more as a historical backdrop and vehicle in which it has shaped the current story being told. Set in the mid-1990s, many of the characters still possess first-hand experience of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima while the next generation are equally affected by the resultant and continuing birth defects and associated cancers. Alongside the inevitable darkness such elements bring to the story, there is plenty of equally dark and horrific content emanating from the characters themselves: rape, violence, torture, murder, and a number of grizzly death scenes are described quite graphically at times, ironically almost on a par with how they might be portrayed in a manga comic. Like any good writer, the author doesn't show his hand too soon in the story, encouraging the reader to reasonably draw their own conclusions and assumptions before allowing the real truth and direction of the story to emerge.

The farther and deeper you progress into this often disturbing and yet captivating tale, the more you will be rewarded as the different and complex strands eventually draw together. Be warned though, this is no easy story to read and one that demands the reader's full attention and concentration. Nor as I've intimated is this a book for the faint-hearted or those who prefer neatly packaged happy endings or a book filled with easily identified characters you're supposed to either like or hate. Nonetheless, a powerful and multilayered story for those willing to stray from the more conventional thriller style and setting.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 10, 2019 – Shelved

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