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.
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.
The Ash Museum was a nostalgic trip down memory Lane not only for Emmie but also for me. I felt I was stepping inside my own recollections of the 80’s and 90’s, the clothes, the music, the world in general.
Of course what I didn’t remember nor had lots of knowledge was that of India’s tea plantations, the British who ran them, their overriding righteousness and sense of entitlement not only of the land but also it’s people.
It was where Smith began her story, the two little children, Jay and Molly, born out of wedlock, an Indian mother, a British father. She brilliantly portrayed the mothers constant anguish, wondering when she might be abandoned, the worry about the future of her children.
It set up the rest of the novel beautifully as Smith thrust us into the future to the life of Emmie and her father Jay. Jay of mixed race inheritance, singled out at school just because his colouring, his family were slightly different. Assumptions made you cross, frustrated but that just highlighted how skilled Smith was, never letting the racism take over the novel. She gave a balanced view point, gave Jay and Emmie reasons to succeed and for Emmie, in particular, a quiet reticence, a shyness and unwillingness to push her father into discussing his and her own heritage.
The willingness to dig deeper wasn’t a huge earthquake just a series of events, gentle nudges that pushed Emmie to be brave, to finally push her father to acknowledge his past.
I loved Smith’s narrative, the wonderful descriptions, the use of the Ash Museum and it’s eclectic and disparate collection of odd and wondrous artefacts. It reminded me of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, a place that never ceases to amaze and intrigue on the several times I have visited.
The feel of the novel was always one of hope, the dark carefully balanced with the light and joyous elements. It had a poignancy that tugged at heart strings, and I loved Emmie’s emergence from the slightly lonely woman lacking in self confidence to one that found a little of herself, of renewed friendships and happiness.
The Ash Museum was a veritable trip down memory lane, one that I revelled in and loved.
I would like to thank Legend Times for a copy of The Ash Museum to read and review and for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Rebecca Smith was born in London and grew up in rural Surrey. From 2009 – 2010 she was the writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. The Ash Museum was inspired by her time there and by being left hundreds of old family photographs and letters.