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5.2 x 8.2"

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Caitlin Ober is back in Japan, teaching English in Kyushu. Some 15 years ago, as a little girl, Caitlin lived in Kyoto, but a tragic accident drove her and her family back to America. Now guilt obscures her path, just as ashfall from a nearby volcano covers Kagoshima in dust. 

In a garden Caitlin meets a teenage half-Japanese girl, Naomi, who may be someone Caitlin can save this time around. Together the two travel to Kyoto during O-Bon, the festival when the dead return. Amid bonfires, temple grounds, and ghostly memories, Caitlin bravely embraces her future. Ash is a bittersweet novel of redemptive beauty, of startling images and alluring details.


"In this candid tale of modern Japan told from the perspective of an American English instructor, Thompson explores Caitlin Ober's struggle to come to grips with the loss of her best childhood friend, Mie, and Caitlin's budding friendship with 14-year-old Naomi, a half Japanese-half American girl. Set in Kyoto and [Kagoshima], a city overshadowed by the active volcano Sakurajima, the novel begins when Naomi approaches Caitlin in a public garden and asks her to sign the will she has just written. Caitlin, absorbed in her past, grudgingly finds herself becoming involved in needy Naomi's life, and the two travel together to Kyoto. There, during the festival of O-Bon, when the spirits of the dead revisit the earth, Caitlin physically retraces the events of the fateful day of Mie's drowning and begins to forgive herself for being unable to save her friend. When she revisits the wife of a Buddhist priest, who comforted her 15 years earlier, she gradually realizes that "death's timing is not always fair." Meanwhile, the usually self-centered Naomi focuses less on her own problems as she empathizes more with Caitlin's loss. Thompson, who lives in Kamakura, Japan, sustains the narrative with plenty of insight into Japanese culture, acquainting readers with cultural expectations and mannerisms. While the plot sometimes meanders, this thoughtful debut should satisfy readers in search of a convincing fictional take on life in contemporary Japan."

Publishers Weekly

"Caitlin Ober is again in Japan, trying to reconnect with the land of her childhood. Amid the spreading ash from the increasingly active volcano Sakurajima, she spends her time listlessly swimming, teaching English, and trying to keep things casual with her Japanese boyfriend. She has stored away her memories of a tragic event that occurred the last time she was in Japan. Visiting a park near a cliff's edge, she comes across a young girl, Naomi, who is half Japanese and half American. The girl asks Caitlin for help in writing a will, which sets off strong signals in Caitlin, who feels she will have to become Naomi's guardian. When she finally gets the strength to visit the Japanese home of her childhood, she finds her life intertwined with and intruded upon by Naomi's troubles. Can Caitlin reconcile the past and the present? Can she help Naomi and forgive herself for an incident that happened long ago? These questions are intriguingly answered in this debut novel."


"A haunting tale of love and loss, of destruction and resilience."

Linda Watanabe McFerrin, author of The Hand of Buddha

"A paean to friendship and to the courage of moving forward, which rings particularly loudly in these dark times."

The Book Reporter, November 2001

"Adeptly explores the bonds of friendship and the courage needed to face the past in order to embrace the future."

Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurai's Garden

"With phrasing as delicate as a Haiku, first-time novelist Thompson crafts a deeply moving story... A wonderful debut."

January Magazine, Best of 2001

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About the Author(s)

Holly Thompson

Holly Thompson

Writes for children through adults and is the author of the novel Ash (Stone Bridge Press), the young adult verse novel Orchards (Delacorte/Random House), and the picture book The Wakame Gatherers (Shen's Books). 

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