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Dennis Bock. The Ash Garden.

Knopf, 2001. 281 pp. $23.00.

The Ash Garden brings together three characters very much products of World War II, its dislocations and violence. Two women, Emiko Amai and Sophie Boll, child survivors of Hiroshima and Linz, live lives of loss despite their "good fortune," which emanates from Sophie's husband, Anton Boll, an atomic scientist who left Germany to work at Los Alamos. Boll discovers Sophie in a refugee camp in Canada in 1943 and plays a critical role in bringing Emiko to the United States for plastic surgery in the mid-1950s. That intertwining of lives forms a central pattern that recurs on several levels of this carefully written and shaped narrative. Emiko's sections of the story appear in the first person, while the Bolls' are told in the third. While the two women lose their families and feel that loss gravely, Boll suffers from an inability to manifest his emotions with any depth. Much like the Edward Teller of the recent Memoirs (Perseus, 2001), he too might say, "I deeply regret the deaths and injuries that resulted from the atomic bombings, but my best explanation of why I do not regret working on weapons is a question: what if I hadn't?" Certainly, Boll believes that. Bock, in this first novel, takes us inside the mind of a focused scientist, puts us on the Enola Gay, allows us to see the ironies of life and history at work; he succeeds more gracefully than Anton Boll in controlling his creation. While "the ash garden" of Hiroshima nearly finds its balance in Sophie's topiary creations, going to seed because of her illness and consequent inattention, the novel itself, with a touch as delicate and easy as Lily Briscoe's at the end of To the Lighthouse, comes satisfyingly together.
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Author:Murphy, Richard J.
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:296
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