Exploring the darker sides of American History in ‘After the Bloom’ by Leslie Shimotakahara

Title: After the Bloom
Author: Leslie Shimotakahara
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Release Date: 09 May 2017
Length: 324 pages
Source: eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Available in Paperback


 

bloomJapanese internment camps aren’t something that gets brought up often (if ever) when we look back on American history. If they are, we talk about baseball; after all, when the winners write the history books, it’s easy to paint things over with a bright, happy paint brush. Leslie Shimotakahara explores this idea, and more, in her debut novel, After the Bloom.

Rita Takemitsu, a newly single mother raising her daughter in 1980’s Toronto, doesn’t know much about her family history. She’s never met her father, barely has a relationship with her older brother and, on the day that she has to send her daughter to stay with her ex-husband and his new girlfriend for the first time, Rita’s mother disappears. Meanwhile, Rita’s mother, Lily, is reliving the past she’d never tell her daughter about: her time at an internment camp in California, how she met Rita’s father, and how she ended up in Toronto once the camp was emptied.

“It was the trademark of women of her generation: despite their veneer of stoicism, deep-down anger simmered. They were tired of doing everything for everyone, sick of life as doormats.”
(Loc. 66)

Through flashbacks from Lily, the reader is able to see what she lived through—but would never tell her children about—during her time at the internment camp. Rita in her quest to find her mother, however, starts to piece together the truth about her family’s history.

“Everyone, perhaps, had these faint, staticky shadow selves following them around, like degraded clones. Yourself, but not yourself. Things you’ve done but couldn’t believe you’d done, would never acknowledge. Parts of yourself you couldn’t bear to own. There was so much Rita wanted to ask her mother.”
(Loc. 3552)

Not only does After the Bloom examine the relationship between mother and daughter—between Rita and her mother, Rita and her daughter—but so too does it shed light on the terrifying reality of an aging parent. Broader still, Shimotakahara takes a hard look at the hypocrisy of a country who prides itself on freedom and acceptance of all people, but an exposure of the darkness born from paranoia.

Part mystery, part literary fiction, part historical fiction, After the Bloom is an important collection of the memories of a dying generation. It is a must-read for everyone.

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