An odyssey is a voyage, literal or spiritual, usually marked by many changes of fortune. The odyssey of A Blessing Over Ashes might be described as a surprisingly smooth journey through time and terror. Traveling from war-torn Cambodian fields to the good ol' USA and back, readers can expect to return safely, but slightly removed from the place in which they began. In his first book, 27-year-old Adam Fifield delivers a warm, fascinating, aching, and comforting account of his brother's life an account as accurate as possible, given what the author admits he does not know. Integral to the story is Fifield's acknowledgment that he cannot understand his brother as well as he would like; in spite of being raised together, the distance between the two is immense.
Fifield was an 11-year-old living in Vermont when the Cambodian boy came to be his adopted brother. Fifield was sure that Soeuth, born four years earlier in another world, didn't belong anywhere. The first thing I thought was: I already have a brother who dismembers my action figures, gets food in his hair. . . . What if our new brother turned out to be some primitive living in our midst, building fires in our living room, sacrificing our cats? By taking us back and forth between rural Vermont and the children's work camp of Wat Slar Gram, Fifield shows how vast the differences between two boys can be. While Fifield formed the concept of good versus evil largely by watching Star Wars, The Hobbit, and Bonanza, Soeuth was taught by the Khmer Rouge that he must forget his family, and smash the heads of the rich people (and) . . . work for the glorious revolution. Ten years after leaving Cambodia with papers that certified he was an orphan, Soeuth learned that his family was still alive. An old Cambodian proverb says, To live is to hope. While Soeuth's hopes for himself, his family, and their reunion are never clear, the distance between his two lives shrinks as he travels over it. His journey is indeed an odyssey.
Diane Stresing is a freelance writer in Kent, Ohio.