The Bowl with Gold Seams
by Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Apprentice House, 2015. ISBN 978-1-627-20099-8.
Reviewed by Cynthia Davidson
Posted on 04/28/2016

Fiction: Historical

What can make the broken beautiful again? The Bowl with the Gold Seams takes the theme of mending work to a place of new meanings. Ellen Campbell reminds us of how mysterious and important our repair work is, whether we are dealing with shattered lives or ceramic bowls.

The golden seams of the pieced-together bowl on the book's cover are an apt metaphor for the emotional transformation of the book's main character, Hazel, whose life is in pieces after the deaths of those closest to her. By introducing us to another culture and its ancient art of Kintsugi (ceramic repair) the author shows us how to see redemption in a new light.

I was impatient with the beginning of the book (there were too many characters I did not care about in the 1985 prologue), the rest of the chapters flew by in a single afternoon. The forty-year sweep of time is crucial to the narrative. The book takes us back to real events in the WWII era at home in the US and reveals how the damage of wars ripples forward into our futures.

In this scene, read by the author in a video on her website, you meet the people who will change Hazel's life.

A woman, taller than any of the Japanese women or men, stood on the steps of the bus.

Sunlight glinted on a fringe of copper curls beneath a navy blue straw hat. A fine mesh veil hid her eyes; a green purse dangled from her arm. She smoothed her straight skirt over shapely hips with white-gloved hands.

One of the local girls, hired for kitchen help, hissed under her breath. "Must be a kraut married to a Jap." A girl with auburn hair, about twelve or thirteen years old, stood beside the woman before hurrying across the lawn to a slender man wearing a charcoal gray suit. He was very handsome; a shock of black hair swept back from a broad forehead.

"They have a kid," one of the girls said. "Look at that. A mongrel kid."

And that was my introduction to Charlotte, her mother, and her father.

The author realistically portrays both wartime concerns and the realities of racism in small town America. Campbell, a practicing psychotherapist, subtly warns readers to be aware of politics and its repercussions during any time of cross-cultural conflict. The way she returned to the past and fit the pieces together in the present day added the gold of emotional resonance to what was missing at the time when the characters' worlds were breaking apart. From the land of earthquakes and survivors of the first atomic bombs, Campbell helps us learn new lessons about the long-term costs of trauma and what can be done to recover our humanity.

Ellen Prentiss Campbell has been writing for a long time, and has a short story collection out too, Contents Under Pressure. A practicing psychotherapist, she understands the conflicts in the lives of her characters and helps the readers have compassion for their predicaments as well. Her short fiction has been featured in numerous journals and her reviews and essays have appeared in The Washington Independent Review of Books, where she is a contributing editor. Visit her website.

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