Emiko a child survivor of Hiroshima, is now a documentary filmmaker. She has horrific memories of August 1945 when she lost her parents and little brother, and of the years of painful operations and homesickness in America where she was sent to restore her mutilated face. She is hoping to interview Anton Böll, a scientist who had fled Germany to work on the Manhattan project.

Böll contends that he had been unaware of human rights abuses; he left Europe because the Nazi regime had cramped his scientific style. As a consequence, his mother was imprisoned and killed. During the war, he met his Austrian-born Jewish wife, Sophie, at a displaced persons camp in Canada. Sophie had lost her whole family, but she does not speak of them and he does not ask.

Briefly they knew happiness, but soon Böll left for work on the bomb and on to Hiroshima in its aftermath. Their marriage would never be the same. For the rest of his life, Böll justified his involvement as a "dream" turned "nightmare" emerging from the imperative demands of a virtuous science. When Emiko approaches him, he hesitates. He does not want to risk blame. But his dying wife knows that absolution for unacknowledged guilt is what he craves.


A complex treatment of an endlessly interesting subject anchored in historical events. The three tales are interwoven in an out-of-order sequence of flashbacks and narrative. Emiko speaks in the first person--the thoughts of Anton and Sophie are described in the third person. Several scientifically interesting themes can be traced. The two women have mutilated faces--Emiko's from the war, Sophie's from the disease, lupus erythematosis.

Yet, Böll seems to bear personal responsibility for both, as Sophie's emotionally charged autoimmune problems began on 6 August 1945. Similarly, all three have lost their families through unnatural human brutality. But again, in contrast to the women, the male scientist can be held personally responsible for his mother's demise. Yet, to "save" his mother, he would have had to remain in Germany as a condoning partner in the warped science that murdered Sophie's family. To escape Germany (and the limited science), he had to become a condoning partner in the warped science that claimed Emiko's family.

Anton wants to believe that he has done the right thing without directly facing his sense of guilt. He clings to the neutral virtues of science. Sophie is driven to an affair, finds solitary solace in her art, and gradually accepts the detachment in her once happy marriage as just one more mutilation caused by the bomb.


The Ash Garden won the 2002 Canada-Japan Literary Award.


Harper Collins

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