Today I’m on the ‘Return to Hiroshima’ blogtour, organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a guest post written by its author, Bob Van Laerhoven, but b
About the Author :
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Laerhoven published more than 35 books in Holland and Belgium. Some of his literary work is published in French, English, German, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Three time finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year with the novels “Djinn”, “The Finger of God,” and “Return to Hiroshima”; Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”.
His collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions,” first published by The Anaphora Literary Press in the USA in 2015, was hailed as “best short story collection of 2015” by the San Diego Book Review. The collection is translated in Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. “Retour à Hiroshima”, the French translation of “Return to Hiroshima,” is recently finished. In 2018, The Anaphora Literary Press published “Heart Fever”, a second collection of short stories. Heart Fever, written in English by the author, is a finalist in the Silver Falchion 2018 Award in the category “short stories collections”. Laerhoven is the only non-American finalist of the Awards.
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.
Guest Post :
THE FLOWER EATING WOMAN AND ME
“Tell me why you keep on writing these multi-layered, sad, shocking, and noir novels,” the Flower Eating Woman said over dinner in Brussels.
She read my latest novel Return to Hiroshima and had called me: “You’ve made me cry while reading your book, so now you have to take me to dinner.”
I agreed. The Flower Eating Woman and I go back a long way, so I forgive her squeezing my thumbs. She insists I was her lover once. I don’t remember. I have forgotten so many things, and the details she brings up to prove that we were enamored in the past could have been made up by a novelist.
As usual, she chose the restaurant; she’s a vegan and very fond of flowers on her plate. She asks the deep colored ones for forgiveness before eating them.
“My novels aren’t nearly as multi-layered, sad, shocking, and noir as current world politics,” I answered. Rather smug, agreed, but she has that effect on me.
She shook her head. Such a dim-witted boy, her table-companion, tsk, tsk, tsk.
“It’s the masquerade, and the emotions behind them, in your books that I’m after. That tragic villain of yours, for instance, the deformed Japanese Yakuza boss, nick-named after a rare Japanese demon… What was his name again?”
“I don’t know why, but, while reading your book, that character, in all its confusing complexity made me think of Bashar al-Assad.”
It’s a long leap from the schizophrenic Japanese mafia boss in Return to Hiroshima to the Syrian dictator and mass-murderer Bashar-al-Assad, but the Flower Eating Woman has a reputation for thought gymnastics.
She saw me frown, and added, “Haven’t you ever noticed that Bashar-al-Assad is the spitting image of those vampires in old black and white movies?” She munched delicately on the reddest shredded cabbage I ever saw.
“Your Rokurobei has, quote, ‘canines, filed sharp, and carefully set with small gems’ to better resemble the demon he’s supposed to incarnate.”
“Did I write that? I must’ve been drunk.”
“Don’t try to be coy, it’s not you.”
“You should become a reviewer. You make the weirdest assumptions.”
She was flattered and smiled. For a vegan, she had sharp teeth.
I don’t remember how we got into our conversation about the chemical weapons Bashar-al-Assad uses against his own people. But I do remember telling her in crisp terms that, as we spoke, the Syrian government’s fighter planes were, as usual, busy attacking Syrian civilians. Admittedly, after the allied air-raid of France, USA, and UK on Syria in April of this year, the Syrian government now deploys only barrel bombs, phosphorus grenades, cluster bombs…In short everything – except chemical weapons – that can maim and kill.
I ended my argument with: “So what’s the difference in the end?”
The Flower Eating Woman looked at me as if I was a Monster From Outer Space. “Where and when did you become like that?”
“Remember what you said to me a long time ago? If you’re convinced that you’re living in a cold, violent, and cynical world, you help to make it even more cold, violent, and cynical even though you actually do nothing.”
“Outmoded, vegan thinking,” I said. “I assume you still eat daisies for dessert?”
Let me spare you her answer.
I just e-mailed the Flower Eating Woman that, for a vegan, she can be extremely sharp tongued.
And that I hadn’t really stopped caring about the world and people.
I was only, among other things, tired, getting old, sad, disappointed, lonely, and grumpy.
Although she has a tendency to exaggerate, I wrote, she’d made me realize that my view of the world over the years has indeed become tainted, disdainful, lame, and tired.
To name just a few things she said to me on the table.
After yesterday’s night – an endless stretch of tossing and turning – I think I remember where my “disgusting cynical negativism”, as she called my state of mind, started. Twenty-four years ago, to be precise, during the Bosnian War, in a dusty, debris-ridden corridor of a Médecins sans Frontières hospital in the besieged Bosnian city of Sarajevo.
Where the girl with the bullet-smashed face on a stretcher gazed at me as if I was some Horror From Outer Space, while I stood there, making notes in the dirty hospital corridor where the wounded and dying were heaped up like cattle.
So many years later, on my laptop, I am gazing at the huge and hazy eyes of Syrian children, hooked on primitive life support systems in cranky hospitals, fighting for their lives.
I’ve never known if the girl with the head wound in the crowded Sarajevo hospital corridor survived. Neither do I know if the Syrian children in the pictures I’m looking at will survive.
What I do know is that I wrestle with the same confusing array of emotions as 24 years ago: compassion, shame, anger, guilt. And underneath all that, a dark and painful layer that I cannot clearly describe, but that feels like this: I felt helpless all my life in the face of the misery man inflicts upon man, and it made me angrier and guiltier with the passing of each year. As a result, I vomited on the world, and called my puke novels.
The Flower Eating Woman and I skyped a few hours ago. She invited me to come over for dinner. She said that we would have marinated daisies as dessert.
I told her about the girl with the bullet-smashed face in Sarajevo, and called that occurrence, “The beginning of my irrevocable descent in negativity.” I produced some more pompous metaphors to make sure she understood that I was just joshing her.
She didn’t want to understand I was just joshing her.
I should’ve known. That’s her nature.
“At last, now I know why you have been publishing all those pitiless, grim novels, packed with characters suffering from intense self-hate,” she said on my screen, looking at me in a very peculiar way.
“I did it to become a rich and famous yuppie-writer!”
“Out of impotent anger, then? Does that suit you better?”
“No,” she answered. “I think you did it out of fear. Fear that you would become suicidal from the atrocities you witnessed during your travelling years in war torn countries. You had to prove to yourself that you were strong by writing novels that, in some ways, are even worse than reality.”
Bob Van Laerhoven – Belgium/Flanders
The Magic Of Wor(l)ds