Critical Novel Review: Hiroshima
Hiroshima by John Hersey is among he most remarkable and influential novels of its generation. Set up in the period of the Second World War, Hiroshima provides a vivid account of the events following the American atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. To symbolize the various effects of the atomic bomb, Hersey uses the story of six survivors with different professions. What comes out throughout the story is the immense nature of the destruction left by the bomb and the debilitating effect it had on survivors. These are observations of fact rather than fiction as all findings of studies to review the aftermath of Hiroshima have pointed debilitating radiation effects (Gordin 317).
For all its complex intrigue with details and facts, Hiroshima is surprising a simplistic piece of journalistic writing focusing on six seemingly ordinary people who had survived the atomic bomb. The narrative begins on the morning the first atomic bomb was dropped from an American plane and ends as the survivors struggle to piece together their shattered lives several months later. On this morning, approximately 245,000 residents of Hiroshima, Japan, including the six characters, were going about their normal lives (Gordin 317). When the bomb detonates, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura is watching her neighbor’s house and overseeing her sleeping children; all end up covered in debris when their house is destroyed. Miss Toshiko Sasaki, an office clerk, is leaning over to speak to a fellow worker when she is blasted out of her desk and trapped under heavy bookcases. She sustains a severely broken leg. A medical doctor, Masakazu Fujii, is reading on his porch when he is catapulted into a river and squeezed between two large timbers (Ross). Still another doctor, Terufumi Sasaki, falls to the floor in the corridor of the Red Cross Hospital and gazes in wonder at the scene outside the window. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge awakens in the vegetable garden of the Catholic mission house, injured and dazed. The Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto throws himself between two large rocks and is hit with debris from a nearby house (Ross). All the six survivors are to a large extent injured, but they are all alive. They try to help each other and the rest of the population that is injured the best they can. There are frantic and desperate attempts to vacate as many of the injured population as possible to higher grounds. Mr. Tanimoto in particular is immensely instrumental in vacating the injured to safer ground.
Order is later restored but the scene of misery and human suffering remains a stuck reminder of the events of the disaster that just struck the city. These scenes were also a complete contrast of what various governments and government agencies were reporting regarding the bombing. A second bomb is subsequently dropped on another Japanese city of Nagasaki and this causes the government to come out of its shell. Indeed, the Emperor of Japan gave a radio address on August 15, telling his people that Japan has surrendered (Gordin 318). The truth of the matter, pertaining to the effects that the bomb had had on the local population is further revealed by radiation illnesses that follow. For instance, Dr. Kleinsorge must go to a hospital in Tokyo. He will never again regain his energy or health. Miss Sasaki, also in a hospital, is so depressed over being crippled for the rest of her life that her doctor asks Father Kleinsorge to visit her (Ross). Dr. Sasaki spends months and years analyzing the effects of the radiation and how best to treat it; he marries and begins a medical practice. Dr. Fujii also opens a medical practice and begins socializing with the occupation officers. Mrs. Nakamura and her children lose their hair and suffer from various illnesses, but because they are so poor, they cannot afford to see a doctor. Mr. Tanimoto attempts to operate his church out of his badly destroyed home (Ross). The survivors struggle on with the effects of the radiation, and attempt to find ways to manage despite their injuries.
These events portray a tragic end to a society that had been formidable in the face of war. Although it largely shows how innocent civilians were targeted for attack in an armed war, it is vital to note the universal resolve and determination of the people of Japan; attributes that were presented to the outside world through their emperor and the relentless army. As such, most of the novel is based on facts and describe actual events that happened on that fateful morning of August 6. However, his attempt to portray all the possible outcomes of the bombing, Hersey describes scenes that are entirely contradictory to the time period of the atomic bombing. For instance, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura is overseeing her children sleep when the bomb is detonated in the novel. The timing of the detonation was in the morning and it is hard to imagine anybody sleeping at that our, especially with such comfort, considering the nation knew it was at war with the British and American forces. Additionally, a female office clerk in East Asia is hard to imagine in the time that this bombing happened. According to the novel, Miss Toshiko Sasaki was an office Clerk, who was blasted out of her desk while leaning over to talk to a fellow worker. Nevertheless, it is overly convenient how Doctor Masakazu Fujii is catapulted from his porch, where he had been reading, into a river and squeezed between two large timbers, yet he survived both the impacts of shattered glass in his porch and that of a thud into the river. A glass porch in this time period is also wrongly represented.
However, these only prove to be few goofs that befall approximately all literary works. The author, as earlier mentioned, probably used them toad imagination to the story and draw empathy from his audience. They also accord a fictitious element to the story of Hiroshima bombing and save the author from any accusations of misrepresentation of facts. However, the bulk of the novel points to events that can be told and retold by immediate survivors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic bombing; and their descendants.
To portray the continuity in the story of the atomic bombing, John Hersey transforms an originally four chapter novel into a five chapter book when he introduces ‘The Aftermath.’ This chapter was added to detail the lives of the survivors after the bombing (up to 1985). In the chapter, Mrs. Nakamura is receiving medical help for her many radiation illnesses and staying away from political rallies by the survivors, who are now called “hibakusha” (Ross). The hibakusha have become the targets of politics and the peace movement. Mrs. Nakamura’s children are grown, and she has retired from a job at a chemical company. Dr. Sasaki ran a lucrative medical practice. He lost his wife to cancer, and he is still haunted by the souls of those who died as a result of the bombing. Father Kleinsorge spent many years ill, both in and out of the hospital. In 1976, he slipped and fell on ice, resulting in fractures that left him bedridden (Ross). The following year he weakened, became comatose, and died. Miss Sasaki endured numerous surgeries on her leg. She converted to Catholicism and became a nun, helping people die in peace. Dr. Fujii died of cancer, but his life after the bombing was one of wealth and the pursuit of pleasure (Ross). The Reverend Mr. Tanimoto, after traveling to America several times to raise money to aid the hibakusha, has retired quietly, living out the rest of his life with vague memories that day forty years ago.
It is inevitable to associate yourself with the thousands of residents of Hiroshima while reading this novel. This is because, in a simple and straightforward way, Hersey has managed to re-create the events of Hiroshima bombing without having been there himself. As such, he accords insight into an event that permanently changed the history of Japan and Asia as a whole.
Gordin, Michael D. “Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb (review).” The Journal of Military History 73.1 (2009): 317-318. Project MUSE
Ross, Stewart. Hiroshima. Mankato, Minn.: Arcturus Pub., 2010. Print.