Title: Hiroshima Dreams
Author: Kelly Easton
Length: 198 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Today–August 6, 2015–is the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was the first time an atomic weapon had been used outside of tests in the New Mexico desert. Together with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, it brought a final, horrific end to the most brutal conflict in history. Though much larger and more powerful bombs have since been developed, the staggering consequences of those first two have, thus far, ensured that no nuclear or atomic weapons have since been used for fear of “mutually assured destruction.”
Despite its title, however, this little novel is not really “about,” nor even set in, Hiroshima. Rather, it is a lyrical coming-of-age story. It begins when Lin, the narrator, is only five. Her grandmother has just arrived from Japan to live with her parents and older sister in their Providence, Rhode Island duplex. She tells Lin that she is “the one” and gives her a lotus seed that feels “as big as [her] five-year-old hand.” Over the next several years, Lin and her Obaachan form a deep bond. Slowly, Lin comes to understand her grandmother’s troubled past and her own psychic gifts.
I found this book very sweet. Perhaps it begins a bit slowly, and certainly older readers with more historical knowledge will have no trouble figuring out Obaachan’s “secret,” but Lin is a bright. endearing little girl from the first. It took me no time at all to start caring about her and not much longer to care about her grandmother as well, and because Dreams is character- rather than plot-driven, sympathetic characters are a must.
The prose is fairly simplistic, especially in the beginning–when Lin is in kindergarten and first grade–but it is artfully written all the same.
In contrast to the other sounds of our house–the voices, the loud Barbie saga that Sally enacts with her friend Molly, the television, Mom’s kitchen utensils and phone conversations, and the rustle of Dad’s newspaper, Obaachan’s room is an island of quiet. I have a name for the room. I call it Mystery. The silence of that mystery is louder than any noise. (20)
When I started reading, I was afraid that Easton would incorporate Hiroshima much more strongly–that, for instance, she would “send” her narrator “back in time” to experience the horrors first-hand–because everything nuclear terrifies me. Fortunately, though Lin has isolated visions of the past, but nothing very graphic. No moral judgments are passed–after all, Lin’s father is American, her mother Japanese. (Obaachan says only, “Goodnight, Bobby-san. Imagine, we used to be enemies.”) No debate on right or wrong is sparked.
The book is, as I said before, focused on Lin’s journey–from a silent, anxious young girl to a quiet, confident young woman. Her bond with her grandmother drives the plot forward. Having also been a shy girl whose family could not afford the best and whose grandmother meant the world to me, I not only liked Lin, but I identified quite strongly with her as well.
Hiroshima Dreams is ultimately the story of a single remarkable girl. It isn’t exciting or dramatic, but it is a quick and touching read. The writing is simple but expressive, flowing through two hundred pages like a clear, sparkling brook.
As they say at church: ashes to ashes and dust to dust. What is there and then not: a city, a war, a mother’s dress floating away on a river, disintegrating back to its threads, its atoms. (161)