Saturday 8 May 2021

BLOG TOUR: The Ash Museum - Rebecca Smith

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.

What did I think?

This beautiful book is so unusual; I absolutely love the format of each chapter revealing a story behind an exhibit in the museum.  With images of buttons you could press to see and hear additional things if you were physically there, it really does feel as if you're browsing treasured items behind a glass case but it's the stories behind them that hold the magic.

I thought it would annoy me that the story isn't told chronologically but I barely noticed it jumping from 1970s to 1910s, then 1980s to 1930s and so forth as I was too busy gobbling up every piece of this wonderful story.  It's actually quite shocking to see racism being so prevalent in each particular decade; without a thought for the person they were hurting, it was quite acceptable to highlight people's differences.  Of course, prejudice isn't just about the colour of your skin as those who are fat, short-sighted, ginger or in any way different don't escape the poisonous venom of cruel kids at school and I can't imagine that has changed much over the years.

This is the story of the Ash family, from James Ash who managed a tea plantation in India in the 1940s to Jassie Ash his great-granddaughter in England in the new millennium.  It is James' son Jay and Jay's daughter Emmie who stole my heart though.  Jay was so cruelly taken away from his mother, along with his sister Molly who didn't really count as she's a girl (shocking), and I think that's why he's such a good father to Emmie.  Jay showers Emmie with all of the love and support he missed out on and she becomes a strong, independent woman who I considered a friend as the novel progressed.

I really can't begin to tell you how amazing this book is; it's written so beautifully and filled with so much nostalgia that it had me casting my mind over my own life.  I remembered things I had forgotten, such as my Dad singing 'Your Tiny Hand is Frozen' when I was a child and the cute little denim jeans purses that were the must have accessory of the 1980s - I had a matching bag too!

Nostalgic, thought-provoking and incredibly touching, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to The Ash Museum and I'm sure the gift shop will be well stocked with packets of tissues as I certainly needed a few while I was reading.  It's such a beautiful, unusual book that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

I received an ARC from the publisher to read and review for the blog tour; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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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.

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