My rating: 4 of 5 stars
*I received a copy to review through NetGalley*
The description of After the Bloom intrigued me but I set the book aside for awhile because it felt like a book that deserved my full attention. The stories of Rita and Lily are entwined in their telling. Although the story is centered around Lily going missing there’s a level of mirroring between the daughter and mother’s stories. Both are hesitant to accept the truths in their lives and that tension is worked elegantly by Leslie Shimotakahara. Although the background of the story is the internment of the Japanese during WWII it succeeds because the characters not the history are in the foreground.
One of the most compelling characters is Kaz because his story is told by other characters. He is seen through Lily’s eyes, through Rita’s eyes and through the eyes of several other characters but we never hear from him. I absolutely love that Shimotakahara did this. Although internment is in the background it is critical to the story, to the identities of the characters and Kaz is the character who brings us face to face with it. Generally I don’t like to include spoilers in my reviews but After the Bloom was such a great piece of historical fiction because Kaz is the character who questions internment, fights against it and makes a record of it. His difficult personality is a challenge that echoes through his family and down the generations.
As to Lily and Rita, their feminine desire to love and nurture resists the harsh truths of their lives but the beauty within the story comes from their will to fight themselves. Which, for me, made the story that much more compelling in context. Shimotakahara doesn’t provide commentary on internment. The commentary comes through witnessing the ways in which Lily and Kaz are just normal people caught up in history. Rita is in a similar position as she has to face up to a history she has no knowledge of and only the vaguest intuition about prior to her mother’s disappearance.
The story feels timeless even as it is anchored to specific points in history and as such I am looking forward to rereading it. The characters, tension and storytelling are all wonderful. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially people who love historic fiction, women’s fiction and books that feel satisfying from beginning to end.
A few notes I wanted to add on top of the Goodreads review relate to my personal preferences in historical fiction. My focus is on topics relevant to more recent history like WWII where survivors have their own stories and memories to share, where their children have that second generation link to the after effects. The books that feel most impactful are the ones that don’t try to create a historical distance between the reader and the characters. Lily and Kaz were both incredibly difficult characters who felt at once contemporary but also fit well into their historical context. Over the years I’ve had a great interest in Japanese culture and have been reading more about Japanese American history and the tension between the two. Lily and Kaz embody this without creating a history lesson and I love that. Rita is Canadian Japanese which was interesting because I had never read about how Canada responded during the war.
When I read historical fiction I still really want to read a character driven story because generally history focuses on the global scale, the national scale and sometimes the local scale but makes it so easy to feel lost in the enormity of something somewhat alien. I read a lot of history but prefer for historical fiction to feel intimate and more like a memoir standing in for the voices lost to history.
What do you like/dislike about historical fiction? What’s compelling to you about historical fiction?