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Terug naar Hiroshima - Return to Hiroshima - 2010

Award: Nominated for the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best Belgian crime novel of the year

Japan, 1995. Fate brings a number of people together in the city of Hiroshima, but with dramatic results. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a diplomat, returns to Hiroshima, 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 the city’s war history. A criminal, said to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko who he considers insane. Hiroshima’s indelible past simmers in the background. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family.

At the bottom of this page you'll find the first thirty pages of "Return to Hiroshima", translated by Brian Doyle, a few chapters translated into Russian by Larisa Biyuts, and a You Tube video


Hair-raising (Reading) Adventure

A deformed dead baby that police inspector Takeda discovers under the Peace Monument at Hiroshima in 1995 is the starting point of a hair-raising (reading) adventure.  Van Laerhoven stocks up the story with a choice selection of characters and contrasts: good versus evil, the individual versus the group, East versus West, philosophy versus materialism, the modern versus the traditional. Van Laerhoven mixes these ingredients into a complex, sophisticated and exciting thriller. It is a daring yet successful attempt at showing the struggle of a highly-developed nation with its past through a spine-chilling story. It rarely happens in Dutch literature that such a thriller gets published. A wonderful book.

JVC, Thriller Guide Vrij Nederland, 2011

Five-star Thriller

These are the main characters:

Mitsuko, a young woman who tries to escape from her father (supposedly the mythical figure Rokurobei) and his fanatical network of yakuza (Japanese mafia) and sect members. Takeda, a police inspector and the product of a rape in a Japanese prison camp. Xavier Douterloigne, a tourist who talked to the wrong person at the wrong time. Beate, an experimental German photographer. Reizo, an antagonistic sect leader and punk author.

It is clear from these descriptions that each and every one of these characters has his or her own heavy cross to bear, and that this will undoubtedly put pressure on their life.

The atmosphere calls to mind Akira, the manga that was made into a film. And as the style of the book is also excellent, the reader will find it harder to put down this book than any other book.

Rory Ceulen, Boekenmagazine Inkt 11, The Netherlands


Much More Than a High-quality Literary Manga

The story has a touch of genius. Back to Hiroshima is much more than a high-quality literary manga. Van Laerhoven has the gift of a very smooth writing style. He also constantly focuses on essential things. As a consequence the reader is easily drawn into the characters. Van Laerhoven won the Hercule Poirot Prize with Baudelaire’s Revenge. You’ll understand why after reading Back to Hiroshima.

Eva Krap,, The Netherlands, Entertainment/Boekenworm 154


Four-star Beauty

One doesn’t often come across a blurb that gives an correct summary of the content of the book. The blurb of Back to Hiroshima is an exception. Van Laerhoven weaves a subtle web of story lines, thus bringing together all the characters. Add to that his well-known smooth style and powerful observations as well as his feeling for the characteristics of Japanese society in the year 1995. The suspense, which is omnipresent, continuously mounts. It goes without saying that Van Laerhoven’s Back to Hiroshima has received the description of ‘literary crime fiction’. This time well-deserved, indeed. But bear in mind that the emphasis is on the literary aspect rather than the crime fiction. A  wonderful read.

Jos van Cann,, The Netherlands

Back to Hiroshima is a complex and at times gruesome story, cleverly composed by an author who explores the boundaries of the thriller genre in an original way.

Fred Braeckman, Knack

The story takes place in 1995: fifty years after the atom bomb Hiroshima looks like any other normal city. Van Laerhoven’s characters, though, are far from normal: there’s a police inspector who struggles with his parentage (he is the son of a Dutch woman raped in a Japanese prison camp), there is a young punk author who finds it difficult to separate fiction from reality, there is a confused girl on the run from her extremely violent gangster father, a girl, moreover, that spent a large part of her life hidden on a deserted mining island, and there is the son of Belgian diplomat who tries to come to terms with the death of his sister.

Their story is not for tender souls. The crime that will determine their life is indeed a gruesome one: at the Peace Monument the deformed and blackened corpse of a baby is discovered, and it looks exactly like the dead baby found and photographed after the nuclear attack fifty years before.

Van Laerhoven skilfully creates the right atmosphere for this drama. As a consequence the whole book is shrouded in a haze of doom. Is this due to Hiroshima itself, a place burdened with a terrible past? Or is the air of desperation typical for our modern society?

Jan Haeverans, Knack

A complex and grisly literary crime story which among other things refers to the effects of the nuclear attack on Japan.

Linda Asselbergs, Knack Weekend

In Back to Hiroshima tension and drama are perfectly alternated. The main characters, though not your ordinary men or women in the street, have been depicted most convincingly, and the description of the ‘new’ Japan, where all criminality is papered over, is truly shocking. Yet the most powerful impression is left by the account of the atom bomb that had just been dropped and by the effects of the explosion on the inhabitants of Hiroshima. All this is presented as a thrilling and above all entertaining crime story.

Back to Hiroshima: a surprising must.

Kris Derks,, The Netherlands

Van Laerhoven’s Back to Hiroshima might well be the most complex Flemish crime story ever written... Several story lines sometimes run parallel and sometimes interweave, only to separate again. Van Laerhoven wrote a crime story of an international standard. This is a magnum opus that will continue to reverberate for a frighteningly long time.

Fred Braekman, De Morgen

Bob van Laerhoven has worked on his magnum opus for two whole years. Now it is finally finished. Back to Hiroshima is a cruel, incestuous drama, catching at the same time the tragedy of the atom bomb and the unreality of a desecrated life during the hypersensitive times of an economic collapse. Society is no more than a body. Hurt, tormented, amputated. As is the human spirit. A book for those who look for surplus value.

Lukas de Vos, Boekenbeursnummer Knack

Bob van Laerhoven’s latest thriller is the most ambitious of the five nominees for the Hercule Poirot Prize...Bob van Laerhoven surprises with a ingenuously crafted story that commands admiration for the breadth of its subject matter

John Vervoort, De Standaard

You definitely want to read this exciting thriller to the end. And you must do it today!

Marjo, 11 April 2011-08-31, The Netherlands

“The story enfolds itself patiently but this emphasizes the delicate and refined way of Van Laerhoven’s story telling.  Regularly,  with almost every character,  revealed through tiny parts and bits in the consecutive chapters, the reader is placed on the wrong foot.  This gives a definite boost  to the mounting tension in the story.  The characters – some of them are remarkable to say the least -  are explored into peculiar depths, and the built up of their psychological make-up is so clever that the reader gets the feeling  that with each new event a tip of the mysterious veil around the story is lifted.  Another important character is the city of Hiroshima itself in which the story takes place.  The monstruous background of the detonation of  the atom bomb  is constantly creating  a bleak atmosphere that gives extra depth to the story.  Clearly, the author has researched Japan in the mid nineties very careful.  His research produces an authenticity that elevates the manifold story lines above an enumeration of events in an arbitrary city. In short: this book is a must read for every fan of crime stories that profoundly leave the well-trodden path of crime literature.”

Wim Van Loock:

 Return to Hiroshima.pdf

Fragment Возвращение в Хиросиму – Terug naar Hiroshima (PDF)


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