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Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
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Aug 22, 11

Read in May, 2011

Black Rain is Masuji Ibuse's classic novel about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the ensuing nuclear fallout. Regarded as one of the best novels ever written about the bombing, Black Rain deals with the tragedy with a delicate frankness.

The story's main characters are Shigematsu Shizuma (a manager at a clothing manufacturing plant), his niece Yasuko, and wife Shigeko. Ibuse employs the method of a "story within a story" to describe the events of the day of and immediately following the bombing, while also revealing the longer-term effects. The novel begins in the present day, approximately 2-3 years after the bombing. Shigamatsu, who was in Hiroshima during the bombing, suffers from a mild case of radiation sickness several years after the bomb. He lives a simple life in small village outside Hiroshima, where he takes his doctor's advice to take it easy, rest often, and and eat well in order to combat the sickness. Of chief concern for Shigamatsu and his wife is helping their young niece, Yasuko, marry well. Unfortunately, rumors that Yasuko suffers from radiation sickness have consistently prevented her from making a good match.

Within the main story, Ibuse includes excerpts from several different characters' diaries. He uses this device to describe in detail the events in Hiroshima between August 6, 1945 (the day of the bombing) and August 15 (the day Japan surrendered to the Allied forces). Shigamatsu is in Hiroshima when the bomb falls, and Ibuse's descriptions of the destruction and human suffering he encounters as Shigamatsu makes his way through the city are harrowing. The author conveys the confusion that citizens must have felt as they wondered what had happened, and then tried to assess the damage to themselves, others, and their property. With no way to communicate across distances, Shigamatsu is at once trying to comprehend the disaster and search for his family in the city. They are eventually reunited, and what follows is a story that reveals not only the horror of the first few days, but the long-term effects the day has on their family.

Through the lens of the Shizuma family, Ibuse reveals the profound physical, psychological, and spiritual impact the Hiroshima bombing had upon the city's population. He not only chronicales the enormous death toll at the outset, but the suffering that then ensued for years afterwards. He is direct and compassionate in his storytelling, both acknowledging with frankness the atrocity of the bombing and creating wholly believeable characters with whom we can empathize. Black Rain is a must read for those interested in Japanese history or World War II.
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