Historical Fiction

After the Bloom

Author: Leslie Shimotakahara

Published By: Dundurn Press

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                I wonder how many people know about the Japanese internment camps that were set up in the United States and Canada during World War II.  It always fascinates me…and makes me a tad ashamed for the generation who went along with it…that we could take people of Japanese descent from the places they had called home for years, whether or not they were born in Japan or the United States, take most of their belongings and rationalize placing them in desolate conditions in rural camps as a national security issue.  

                It is important to learn about this time in American history, even if it means reading a historical fiction novel that touches upon it.  While I read non-fiction books about our history all the time, I must concede that they are often dry works.  That is why I think historical works that touch upon our history and are as close to being factual as possible are important – so that those who would rather read fiction can still learn something about our past.  To that end, I present a review of After the Bloom.

                After the Bloom follows the Takemitsu family, coming across them in a moment of crisis.  Recently divorced Rita, a Canada-based high school art teacher, thought her mother’s wandering days were over.  Sure, Lily often became confused when talking about her family’s past and sometimes she would wander off somewhere, forgetting the time and sometimes forgetting that she didn’t live in a certain area anymore.  But she was recently married and appeared to be happy in life.  And even on those occasions that she had wandered before her wedding, Lily always made her way back within a few hours.

                So, when Lily’s disappearance lasts longer than a day, Rita becomes concerned.  Believing that the local police are not doing enough to find her mother, Rita begins investigating her mother’s disappearance herself.  But her research into the past that her mother never seemed to want to admit ever existed – her internment in a camp during World War II – reveals more questions than answers.  As Rita delves deeper into her mother’s past, she unearths truths about her family that she never could have imagined.  Will Rita’s investigation reveal her mother’s reason for leaving and where she might have gone, or is Lily lost forever?

                This story is told in the perspective of two people, Rita and Lily.  As Rita unearths things about Lily’s past, we actually see the event through Lily’s point of view.  We learn that Lily does suffer from a mental illness.  Raped repeatedly by her father at an early age, Lily often hears voices and laughter, sometimes these help Lily block out painful occurrences, but, for the most part, they serve to confuse her. 

Unable to explain what is going on in her mind, Lily tries to live her life as if everything is normal, even while in the internment camp, until she meets the two loves of her life, Kaz and his physician father. Dr. Takemitsu is a respectable physician doing what he can to keep his family safe by caring for those in the camp as best as possible.  His son, Kaz, is a lost and angry soul who uses his camera and later his fists to fight back against the atrocities visited upon his people.   It is through her affair with Kaz and events that take place involving his involvement with the rebellious members of the camp that cause Lily to have a break with reality.  Already suffering guilt and PTSD over what happened with her father, Lily suffers further guilt over another attack on her person and the wrongful imprisonment of the man who tried to save her.  But it is the violent rebellion at the camp that really does her in, sending her pin wheeling on the edge of reality, pushing away the hard times of her life in favor of an alternate fantasy-based reality.

As I read this book, I became invested in the lives of Rita and Lily, alternating between being angry with their actions and hoping they succeed in their goals.  Readers will discover that Rita’s search for her mother actually has a positive effect on her life, leading her to straighten out her own life, clearing up misconceptions and painful memories of her childhood and enabling her to move forward and possibly find love.  Readers will also find that Lily’s guilt is a powerful force and, when she finally faces that guilt, she comes just a bit closer to the happiness that has eluded her all her life.

After the Bloom is a powerful story that actually tackles a few subjects.  It speaks about a time in our history that very few seem to know enough about, explaining the internment camps and the feelings of those who found themselves forced to live in them.  It explained the Redress period in the 80s – a movement for reparations for internment camp victims – something I knew very little about.  The novel also addresses mental illness, particularly PTSD in its different forms and how guilt can be a major factor in an individual’s mental health.  The author also dabbles a bit in the history of the Hidden Christians of Japan, something else I knew very little about.

Oh, and in case you wondered - Leslie Shimotakahara actually based the internment camp on Manzanar, a camp in California.  The riot that takes place in the book is loosely based on the Manzanar Riot.  The author did extensive research on these subjects, memory loss, suppression of memories and more in writing this project, adding a special sort of authenticity to the story.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend After the Bloom to anyone interested in a good read. 


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