In the Realm of Ash & Sorrow by Kenneth W. Harmon

What an unexpected and fascinating find! More often than not, I’m better off knowing little about a book I’ve chosen to read because my expectations are often dashed. What I knew before beginning this one was that it was about an American pilot who crashed his plane on Japanese soil during WWII. I had no idea that it would turn into one of the best works of Magical Realism that I’ve read in quite a while. Those magical elements are evident early on, allowing the reader to suspend disbelief—to buy into—the magical realm, so that by the book’s end, we have allowed Harmon to transport us to places of pure fantasy. We no longer need the footing on the terra firma of the natural world.

Little did I realize that this truly epic tale would be about much more than the tremendous difficulties the Japanese faced once they began losing the war. Micah, an American bombardier, notices a Japanese woman walking to work after his plane has crashed. Micah’s ghost soon begins to follow Kiyomi and her young daughter, Ai. His curiosity and loneliness allows Micah to overlook the fact that they are Japanese – the sworn enemy. Harmon’s storytelling comes alive as he combines Japanese mythology, philosophy, a love story, as well as American guilt. The possibility of there being other realms—besides the realm of ash and sorrow—offers hope. This is a rich and complex work. A true masterpiece! I look forward to reading Harmon’s other books.

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