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Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers' Favorite
"At that moment, the moon breaks through the clouds and magnifies Rokurobei’s silhouette, standing at the handrail of the fortified wall. I freeze...Time skips a beat. Then I realize that the serpent’s neck is looking in the opposite direction; I sense he’s deep in thought, reflecting on who he once was and what he has become." In Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven, several individuals wrestle with their reality, identity, past and uncertain future. They try to redeem themselves through their goals which are often muted by social norms with the memories of WWII revealing a horrifying secret that further exemplifies the monstrous side of humankind.
Bob Van Laerhoven weaves a complex and spine-chilling tale set in 1995 Hiroshima, where '90s Japan is burdened by economic recession but thrives with popular culture trends. The writing is sublime and the narrative is engaging, a commendable feat from Brian Doyle for translating Laerhoven’s work. The perspective of the story alternates between several characters such as the daughter who searches for the truth about her ‘demon’ father, a biracial inspector who’s passionate about murder cases, and a punk who's an eccentric ultranationalist, just to mention a few. Psychological insights of these characters’ thought processes and mental states easily flesh out their dynamics with one another. Each short chapter outlines aspects of their psyche, showing the complexities of reality in a bleak side of Japanese society. They seem unrelated at first until the plot converges, crossing each other’s paths until it leads to a surprising conclusion. Disturbing yet brilliant, Return to Hiroshima is a thought-provoking read.