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Return to Hiroshima - 2018

1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences.

Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima's war history.

A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane.

And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will "overturn Japan's foundations"....

Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.

 

REVIEWS 

 

This complex and compelling novel of criminal intrigue contrives to be immense and intimate, simultaneously. The expansive narrative extends across time and philosophical space to pierce the psyche of a nation in turmoil, yet this sprawling story is told in intensely personal episodes.

Author Bob Van Laerhoven pulls together an outlandish ensemble cast of peculiar personalities; fierce, fragile individuals who claw their way under your skin. Their predicaments –and their potential to unleash chaos – drag you into the narrative’s darkening abyss (….)Don’t expect a story of this complexity to make sense to you immediately. It takes a little while to weave its spell – but by the time I’d read a quarter of it I was sneaking away to spend quality time immersed in this unsettling, unpredictable universe. The writing feels convincingly Japanese; an impressive accomplishment on its own given that the author is European.Maybe the setting swayed me, but I was strongly reminded of the two Murakamis. Return to Hiroshima is every bit as brazenly brutal as Ryu Murakami can be. Yet it’s also as subtle and sophisticated as Haruki’s early work (and Laerhoven even incorporates a tip of the hat to the Japanese grandmaster). Return to Hiroshima  presents bleak and bewildering insights into Japanese society, and into the wider world of the emotionally fragile and the terminally maltreated. It’s like being submerged in a blizzard of sensations; you’re kinda complicit in an avalanche of awful intent. Leave your expectations at the door, because the plot and characters do not conform to any easily predictable path. Instead they are as vibrant and transient as cherry blossom, but soak the sidewalk with an infinitely more ominous shade of scarlet…This is not the kind of crime-thriller which ends tidily with the case closed, bad guys doing time and the DI and his DS enjoying a pint in the pub. Return to Hiroshima is a meaty, substantial piece of work which exposes its audience to sustained nervous tension and acts of cruelty. Some scenes are grueling and even gruesome, but they’re balanced by instances of extraordinary tenderness, of sacrifice and salvation. Laerhoven deliberately skews our perception of what occurs within the story, to explore the nature of what is real within fiction. In this story two truths may be equally valid but ultimately opposed. It’s sinister and stylish; an accomplished feat of storytelling. 9/10

Rowena Hoseason – MurderMayhem&More - https://murdermayhemandmore.wordpress.com/2018/07/04/return-to-hiroshima-nuclear-fallout/

It is the memory of events real or imagined that accelerates Bob Van Laerhoven’s grisly “Return to Hiroshima” to the first rank of macabre noir.(…) Van Laerhoven’s mastery of his subject and his flawless maneuvering through Japan’s unique past make one forget the depth of his narrative. There are many layers to “Return to Hiroshima”, and Van Laerhoven’s gift is crafting many intriguing subplots to create an energetic whole. But ‘layered’ is not quite right. Like an iceberg, a predictable part of Japan is visible for anyone to see. But beneath the surface lies mortal danger. And Van Laerhoven bravely plumbs those depths, for what’s underneath is a separate universe. What’s unsaid. What’s unaccounted for. Secrets no one admits to. Furious, revengeful rages hide beneath cool facades. Unspoken but understood conspiracies feed quests to right ultimate wrongs. (…)There are times when myth and monsters are the only way to explain the inhumane in us all. And at the heart of “Return to Hiroshima”, longing turns violent, dreams morph into their own violent realities, and memories prove to be unworthy of trust. Yet the desire to return endures. To return. And return again. Memory is a monstrous thing, indeed. Five stars out of five.

(Joseph Mark Brewer – Book Review Wednesday - https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7366962.Joseph_Mark_Brewer/blog) 

In his novel Return to Hiroshima , Bob Van Laerhoven takes us fifty years after the bombing and depicts a unique picture of the town and its inhabitants through numerous intersecting stories. (….)While this novel certainly has quite a lot to offer in the realms of pure fiction, Bob Van Laerhoven went above and beyond to try and shed some light on the terror that is war, lest we forget its significance through glorifying movies and literature. The war flashbacks we are treated to don’t pull back any punches and depict the catastrophe that is the loss of human life in all of its unadulterated horror. He tries his best to make us truly feel the impact of what people have gone through time and time again over the course of human history. (....) Additionally some parts of this book (mainly the ones near the end) focus on the infamous torture experiments of the Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 conducted on prisoners of war. Their atrocities are well-documented to this day, and the author takes full advantage of it, putting every detail out there in the open and making us relive the unspeakable in the role of spectators. This section is quite heavy on the mind and pushes you to reflect on the nature of humanity and how profoundly the darkness within us truly runs. (….)With all things considered, Return to Hiroshima is a profound novel penned with exceptional skill by an author who has so far written some of the most unique books themarket has to offer. Everything from the characters to the plot, setting and historical flashbacks is crafted with marvelous care, offering an engrossing mystery flavoured with reminders of real atrocities. If you enjoy mystery novels and are interested by Japanese culture dating back to the Second World War I would heavily recommend you give this novel all the attention you can.

(Bookwormex - https://bookwormex.com/return-hiroshima-bob-van-laerhoven-review/)

This is an intricate and very well thought out novel. Return to Hiroshima tells the story of Japan’s current culture while it somehow holds onto the past. In following several characters and their journeys, we as readers get a well-rounded perception of life In Japan. (…)Shrouded in darkness and mystery right from page one, I was intrigued to progress through the text to see what I could uncover while somehow remaining cautious and a little timid to find out what would happen. It may be fifty years post-bombing in this novel, but the ominous feeling lingers heavily for the people in their day-to-day. (…)The characters were intricate and the plot was heavy, but because of that weight I felt as I was reading, I also felt the need to push on and learn more. There was an eerie element woven through this entire tale that seemed to leap off the page and wrap around me. Yet, I got an inside look to another angle of Japan’s culture and grim history. (…)I loved so many things about this book. The writing was stunning and while I made my journey through a subject matter I didn’t know much about, I was completely informed and entertained. While the doom and gloom may not be seen as a positive aspect of a text in many regards, for me, it was exactly that. The history mixed with fictional elements built this really intense tale that read like a solid mystery or horror novel. It had all the elements to teach you a little something while also sending chills down your spine.(…)There’s a lot to be learned and retained from a novel like this one, and I’m glad I got a chance to read it. What a ride!

(The Blabbing Bibliophile - http://www.theblabbingbibliophile.com/?p=2688)

Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings. (….)The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.
This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviours described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril. (…)This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of “Baudelaire’s Revenge”, another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’  Five stars out of five.

(Olga Núñez Miret:  http://olganm9.booklikes.com/)

Beautifully crafted, portrays a dark and violent world.

As our world is going through uncertain times, reading Bob Van Laerhoven’s literary crime story “Return to Hiroshima” makes you sit up and pay attention. The story, beautifully crafted, portrays a dark and violent world; effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and its inhabitants, effects that we may not know enough about. The characters are truly remarkable. It’s a complex and sophisticated thriller with continuous mounting suspense that makes it such a satisfying read. A read to think about. As Van Laerhoven says in an interview “This is the point where literature can step in. You may have trouble imagining what a nuclear conflict would be like, but literature can.” 

Canadian author Ulla Hakanson – amazon.ca

(…) a complicated tale of greed, corruption, and madness set in the world of 1995 Japan with flashbacks to the end of WWII as the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. Japan is reeling from an economic recession that threatens everything that they have accomplished since their loss in the great war.(….) This was an intense read that kept me turning the pages to discover how it was going to end. Who would win, the forces of “Good” or the forces of “Evil”? The characters are tightly drawn, and the setting is portrayed in such a way that you become part of the action. Anyone who enjoys a dark and murky noir mystery will enjoy this book.

(Doward Wilson – Kings River Life Magazine - http://kingsriverlife.com/07/28/return-to-hiroshima-by-bob-van-laerhoven/

(…..) Most of the action takes place in 1995, which keen Japan-watchers remember as the year when an obscure Japanese religious group unleashed a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro. The members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult convicted for the attack were executed earlier this month, which makes this book extremely topical.(….)It is nearly impossible to give a short summary of the complicated plot, which weaves in Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese mafia and World War II and “Return to Hiroshima” hovers between being a conspiracy thriller, historical fiction, police procedural and noir. What is certain is that it is a page-turner, with short chapters from multiple viewpoints, which lend themselves far too well to just-one-more-chapter-before-I go-to-sleep syndrome. There are plenty of good insights into the Japanese psyche, the almost schizophrenic nature of their society, although it is mostly the dark side that you will come across in this novel. Overall, it is a satisfying, but very dark and eerie story, which will appeal to readers who like their genres well shaken and stirred.

(Marina Sofia – Crime Fiction Lover -  https://crimefictionlover.com/2018/08/return-to-hiroshima/)





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