Sunday 9 July 2023

Book Review: The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith

The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith book cover

AD* | Through ten decades and across three continents, The Ash Museum is an intergenerational story of loss, migration and the search for somewhere to feel at home.

1944 The Battle of Kohima. James Ash dies leaving behind two families: his ‘wife’ Josmi and two children, Jay and Molly, and his parents and sister in England who know nothing about his Indian family.

2012 Emmie is raising her own daughter, Jasmine, in a world she wants to be very different from the racist England of her childhood. Her father, Jay, doesn’t even have a photograph of the mother he lost and still refuses to discuss his life in India. Emmie finds comfort in the local museum – a treasure trove of another family’s stories and artefacts.

Little does Emmie know that with each generation, her own story holds secrets and fascinations that she could only dream of.

The Ash Museum takes readers on a profound and intergenerational journey that traverses time, continents, and the intricacies of the human experience. While initially challenging to immerse yourself in due to its non-linear timeline and frequent shifts between characters and periods, this book gradually unfolds into an engrossing and rewarding narrative.

The book can be viewed as a tale of two halves. In the first half, there may be a struggle to establish a connection with the story, as the disconcerting nature of the narrative structure requires time to adjust. However, perseverance brings rewards as the second half captivates with its vibrant characters and enriched narrative flow. For this reason, I found it difficult to decide how to rate the story!

At the core of The Ash Museum lie poignant themes of family, loss, and the circle of life. While the plot itself may not take centre stage, it is the depth and development of the characters that truly shine. The author artfully crafts multifaceted individuals who evoke empathy, weaving their lives together across generations. Through their stories, the author examines the profound desire to belong and the intricate emotional landscapes of human relationships.

The book's emotional impact is undeniably potent, evoking a strong response that tugs at the heartstrings. Moments of intense poignancy may even elicit tears, as you become deeply invested in the characters' joys and sorrows.

The Ash Museum distinguishes itself through its focus on the beauty of the ordinary. Life's essence is masterfully captured through subtle details and snapshots of everyday existence. It is in these seemingly mundane moments that the book finds its power, illuminating the significance of the ordinary in shaping our lives.

Through the tale's vivid and beautifully crafted prose, the author invites readers to reflect on the universal human quest for a place to call home - a place where you can authentically belong. While it may require some initial effort to acclimate to the narrative style, the rewards are plentiful. Rebecca Smith's writing style, full of evocative descriptions and nuanced characterisations, breathes life into the pages. This renders the journey through The Ash Museum a captivating and thought-provoking experience.

The Ash Museum stands as a testament to the power of storytelling and the resilience of the human spirit. It delves into profound themes of family, identity, and the pursuit of a place to fit in. With its poignant exploration of ordinary moments and its powerful emotional resonance, this book is sure to linger in your mind long after the final page is turned.

Rating: 3 stars

The Ash Museum is available to buy now.

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Have you read The Ash Museum? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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