This novel by husband-and-wife team Constance Hays Matsumoto and Kent Matsumoto is a compelling saga that tells the story about two individuals separated by an ocean yet destined to come together.
Ruby Ishimaru is a Japanese American growing up in Hawaii on the cusp of World War Two. Her happy childhood ends when her mother and baby sister die during childbirth. Then when she and her sister are separated from their father and sent to a Japanese internment camp, all of Ruby’s dreams fade into the reality that her life will never be the same.
Across the Pacific, young Koji Matsuo sees change everywhere in his hometown of Hiroshima, Japan. As he grows up and takes his place in the emperor’s army he’s torn, struggling with the knowledge he’ll soon be forced to fight against the country where he was born, America.
This sets up the story of two underdogs who suffer great losses and indescribable horrors, only to finally find love.
It’s a tale that draws you in, watching these two wide-eyed youths have their joy clouded by harsh tragedy. Being ostracized, ridiculed, threatened, and mistreated by her peers, Ruby proves her courage in the face of shameful acts that would make many crumble. She’s a survivor and it’s that internal fire, and her beauty, that draws Koji to her after the war. When introduced by their friends, there’s an immediate attraction. But they don’t agree on their experiences of the war. While Koji believes America is the land of opportunity and is eager to serve his new homeland in the Korean conflict, Ruby is surprised by his dismissal of the pain she experienced by barb wired fences in the internment camp. They go their separate ways only to be reunited years later in a surprising twist of fate.
This rare glimpse of the war-torn Hiroshima and the harsh internment camp life offers an eye-opening view of a troubling period in history.
Despite it being a work of fiction, the past blossoms to life in this tale, reminiscent of a John Jakes historical novel. The artful writing, weaving in deeply researched historical insights, and details the authors have perhaps gleaned from family, creates a beautifully told story. This book would make a great book club or class syllabus read, promoting learning and at the same time rich discussion. This perspective of history shouldn’t be discounted and Of White Ashes provides a gentle reminder of the sacrifices made by many Japanese American families as well as provides a greater appreciation for culture and community.
Honoring those who’ve suffered as a result of this history, the authors have decided to donate a percentage of their royalties to the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages organization.
Book and Image Courtesy of PR By the Book