Book Review of ‘The Ash Museum’ by Rebecca Smith

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this lovely book in a Twitter competition run by P & G Wells, an independent bookseller on College Street, Winchester. They can be found on Twitter as @Bookwells or online here. Thank you!

Cover of The Ash Museum by Rebecca Smith
You can get your own copy of ‘The Ash Museum’ here.

The novel begins in 1944, with James Ash, an English manager of a tea plantation in India, fighting as an officer in the Battle of Kohima. When he dies, he leaves behind two families: his ‘wife’ Josmi and two children, Jay and Molly, and his parents and sister in England who know nothing of his Indian family.

From the 1940s, we move to the 1970s, where we find Jay living in England, and raising his own daughter, Emmie. The casual racism of her childhood is horrendous, more so as it is mainly portrayed through thoughtless comments and assumptions made by adults towards a child.

Skip forward to 2012, and Emmie is now 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.

This multi-generational tale spans one hundred years of the Ash family, and follows them in their lives in England, India, Canada and New Zealand. Emmie comments that the history of her family is mainly about them leaving places, although I felt that by the end of the novel, maybe Jasmine may be the one to feel that she finally belongs.

I most enjoyed the scenes of James and Josmi’s life in India, although that does not mean that these were comfortable reading – some of the expectations and prejudices involved in Josmi’s tale are truly heartbreaking. My least favourite parts of the novel were towards the end, when Emmie volunteers at the museum, which just seemed to be a setting too far.

One of the most noticeable aspects of this novel’s style are the chapter titles, which are all objects in the ‘Ash Museum’, which represent all the significant events in the family’s life. The novel also contains letters, postcards, diary entries and some ‘buttons’ to push to listen to accompanying music – these were such a lovely idea!

Overall, I found this to be a heartwarming tale of change and strength, the importance of family, and the bond between members of different generations, even those who have never met. It is beautifully written and gives both an entertaining yet sensitive approach to some under-discussed issues.

The Ash Museum’ is published by Legend Press.

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