After suffering injuries in the bombing of Hiroshima, H, an intersex Japanese woman, has surgeries that enable her to become a woman. Later, in New York, she falls in love with an American soldier and helps him search for a girl who went missing during the war.
It is not written for the faint of heart. Perezagua disbars no details in elucidating readers to the terror experienced by people across continents and throughout history. The lesser-known traumas Perezagua revisits, in acknowledgement of the continued suffering caused by World War II, are repulsive, terrifying, but necessary the novel does not relish in these atrocities but rather uses them to demand culpability ... While The Story of H reads as a confession of a murder it could more adequately be described as a fictitious memoir, peppered as it is with historical accounts, supplemental research, and anecdotes. Perezagua’s writing oscillates from pithy and fierce on one page—to swirlingly poetic the next. It is difficult to come up for air when reading the novel because H’s account is so unrelenting, her telling impassioned and coded, full of hidden meaning and etymology that necessitate a second read ... equal parts disturbing, visceral, and enchanting.
Marina Perezagua has written a haunting and strange tale that captures the reader from the get-go as she unveils tiny clues to the true nature of H's life and of the search she embarks on with Jim for the baby he tended. The story twists and meanders, providing insight into a life of duality experienced by some whose gender is not apparent at birth ... Recurring themes of parenthood, love and survivorship dominate this lyrical novel. Perezagua includes graphic details about the Hiroshima victims in the aftermath of the bombing, and she muses on the meaning of sex and sexual identity. While at times she is overly cryptic in her descriptions and slow with plot reveals, the overall effect is mesmerizing and beautiful. The Story of H unfolds like the petals of a flower, exposing humanity at its center.
Rich with symbolism and recurring motifs, the story folds in on itself like origami. We learn that H has committed a crime, followed by her confession, and that she has been both victim and witness to acts of state-sponsored violence, yet is able to find hope amid the wreckage. Although the letter 'H' is often silent, this thought-provoking novel charting the aching distance between the heart and tongue gives voice to the mutability and resilience of the human spirit.