Ben Byrne’s excellent first novel, set amid the blasted landscapes of post-war Japan, tells the stories of four, very different protagonists. Hal Lynch is a photographer working on a US military newspaper who sets out to document how the atomic bomb has poisoned Hiroshima. Satsuko Takara and her brother, Hiroshi, were separated during the American attacks on Tokyo and must find ways to survive on its ruined and crime-ridden streets. And Osamu Maruki is an aspiring writer who returns from military service in the South Pacific to document life at home.
It’s tempting to compare Fire Flowers to the recent work of David Peace – another British author who has taken to fiction to explore the moral complexities of the US occupation of Japan. But Byrne is very much his own writer — his prose lavish, his characterisation acute. Though he skilfully interweaves the strands of his narrative, he wisely avoids tying them together too neatly. The result is an impressive and nuanced account of a dark moment in history – and a promising literary debut.