Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Literally the Best Reviews: Phantoms

Phantoms - Christian Kiefer
Liveright Publishing
288 Pages

Several months ago, both Howie and I reviewed a book called Eagle and Crane by Suzanne Rindell (you can revisit them HERE and HERE). That book was a piece of historical fiction that centered upon the Japanese internment camps during World War II. My latest review is Phantoms by Christian Kiefer and takes its own take on the same subject matter. This time the mystery of the Japanese experience is explored a generation after the fact by another veteran of another war looking for his purpose in life.

Ray Takahashi returns to northern California where his family had worked the orchards for decades before the war. When he reaches the house where he grew up, he finds not his family, but another family he does not recognize. He is turned away from his home, and people he thought were friends turn their backs on him. Takahashi disappears into the mists of time. Did he find another place to set down his roots? Did he simply melt away into a safer place,away from the judgemental eyes of former neighbors after a war involving his ancestral home?

Fast forward twenty years to the end of a tour in Vietnam by John Frazier. Desperate to erase his memories of the battlefield and drowning in self misery and substance abuse, Frazier goes home to re-evaluate his life. Using these moments to write the next great, American novel, he is drawn into an old family story involving his aunt and the woman who once lived next door to each other. 

His aunt, the steely matriarch of the family has a story and a secret that has never been told. Whispers haunt her, although she seems to be mostly unfazed by it. Her former neighbor, now living in another city, is Kikimo Takahashi. As his aunt reaches the twilight years of her life, she feels the need to reacquaint herself with her former friend and neighbor. With Frazier available, his aunt uses him to ferry her to Takahashi’s residence. Their attempts to reconcile follow a bumpy and circuituitous road. 

Much like Eagle & Crane, this novel explores a too often overlooked aspect of our history. Connected by war and love, these stories take the reader back to the early twentieth century. The tales of love and loss are intertwined throughout the narrative, even through the eyes of Frazier who has a different loss of love than Ray. 

Christian Kiefer writes an excellent book. The story flows well and makes it easy to want to read more. His plot is well developed and the two time periods meld into a cohesive story that need each other to come to a resolution. Kiefer writes in such a way that there is a great deal of empathy for both Ray and John. I was intrigued by the connection between the families and how their mutual conflict would come to a resolution. Part of the mystery was telegraphed from the beginning, but there were other parts that were a surprise. 

Phantoms by Christian Kiefer was a very interesting read. If you decide to pick up this book, be prepared to set aside some time to read. You won’t want to put it down. I read this book in one sitting while waiting for one of my daughters at dance class. I enjoyed this book to the point that I reserved a copy of Kiefer’s The Infinite Tides from the Lockport Library. I can’t wait to plunge into that one.

Craig Bacon will read everything by an author once he finds one he likes. He will definitely be reading more by Christian Keifer.