Paquita Maria Sanchez's Reviews > Hiroshima

Hiroshima by John Hersey
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May 10, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: truthiness

This book will:

1) Make you cry. A lot. You will cry on your cigarette break at work so that when you go back to your desk, your coworker will see your ragged eyes and think you just got dumped over the phone or found out your cat died. No, you were just reading about something roughly one googolplex worse, but you won't even bother trying to explain because your coworker couldn't give two shits about world history, and hadn't even heard about the 2011 mass murder in Oslo until you explained it to her a few weeks ago. Blind, me-centric America, folks. Scenes from this book will return when you are stuck in traffic, and you will cry some more. Do not operate a motor vehicle under the influence of this book.

2) Humble you. Calling my problems 'problems' is a little more difficult after reading this book, which is a high achievement in any artistic endeavor. Witnessing the sober-minded, empathetic will of the survivors, and the nation itself, after suffering one of the most blind, unfathomably enormous single blows dealt in all of military history really manages to put the term 'grace' into perspective.

3) Anger you. Arguably the most stomach-dropping scene in this two-part journalistic piece is not one told from the ground where Hersey largely concentrates, but years later on a television set in America. The scene featured a spot-lit survivor of the atomic bomb, a minister, a man who put tireless efforts toward assisting his fellow survivors through worldwide fundraising despite the impediment of living as a hibakusha, a sufferer of the for generations felt, infinitely complex and boundless in physical manifestations, lifelong, crippling beast that is radiation sickness, a man who championed the notion that hatred of America and anger toward the attack(ers) is a knee-jerk reaction and that it is the notion of Total War rather than that of American militarism in general or atomic warfare specifically which should be the target of emotional examination and legal action, and which should be fought against by redirecting all the power of concentrated anger rippling through Japanese society after the bombs were dropped toward the goals of peace, acceptance, and precautionary measures taken for the future of the world, a man who stood in front of the United States Senate and prayed to them for their welfare, congratulated them for their role as the leaders of Planet Earth, and thanked them for bringing peace, stability, and democracy to his nation. Here this man sat, thinking he was on a local television station promoting his charity designed to raise money for female a-bomb victims suffering from physically deforming keloid burn scars on their faces, as this is what he was told. He was lied to, to the extent that a pre-show rehearsal was conducted without his knowledge in preparation for this major television event. Little did he know, he was actually on a popular television show (similar to, say, Oprah or Real Time) in front of millions of American viewers, stunned to find that as cameras stared at his face--a face which heroically attempted but quite understandably failed to mask his sheer horrified astonishment--in front of a live studio audience he was introduced to and practically forced to shake hands and have a nice little chat with the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, a tears-feigning man who was late and drunk during the taping because he was angry when he found out he was not receiving a big paycheck for his appearance on the show, so he just got lit and showed up all tousled and disoriented. Talk about media exploitation. Man, it has been a long time since I read something which disgusted me so much, and that is saying a lot. Oh, I'm getting flushed with anger just typing about it. A lot of pathetic parading of ugly humanity happens here. Prepare yourself.

4) Scar the visual landscape that is your mind. The imagery in this thing, as told through the recollections of 6 survivors, illustrates with emotional restraint in a dry, respectfully factual narrative account, just what an atomic bomb does to a populace. Having grown up in Oklahoma City, I have seen the mind-boggling destruction which results from a large, targeted bomb attack, and distinctly recall being in math class 10 miles away from ground zero, yet feeling myself shifted in my chair at the moment of explosion. I remember wandering into the halls and, within twenty minutes, hearing the radio and television accounts, and witnessing students and faculty alike dropping to the ground in hysterics upon finding out that the city block or even the very building where their husband, mother, father, older brother, cousin, or best friend worked had been annihilated in a breath, those close to them incapable of knowing where they were or if they were. I remember my father pulling my brother and I out of school, and taking us to witness the destruction, so massive in scope, so emotionally trying, so brain-stretching and perspective-building in a way which a 13 year old girl had never even thought she would be forced to face, or had even considered in her silly, pre-adolescent mind. Reading Hersey's piece, I remembered that time, the surreal nature and bottomless melancholy of it all, and tried to imagine it multiplied by so many times it is a number I am incapable of even estimating. Hersey illustrates: kimonos permanently scarring flesh with ornamental patterns, practically faceless soldiers marching with oozing eyes before dropping to their deaths, a pan of a city of moans, of pleas for assistance which are drowned out by roaring fires which consume a landscape predominantly composed of rubble, a blazing trash heap of screams, forcing people to make non-stop me or them decisions, shadows burned into concrete, burial tombs uprooted, a sole doctor left to make decisions about who he can save, and who he absolutely cannot save with his limited resources, working nonstop for days and days with no food or water or sleep or even a single break. There was no FEMA dropping in to assist these people. There was a small handful of uninjured doctors and nurses dealing with a miles-stretching feed-line of wounded souls, many doomed to death before they even burrowed their way out of the wreckage. Sickening.

5) Terrify you. Though I always try my best to keep my ear to the ground concerning current politics, particularly the seemingly endless stream of wars conducted in the name of future peace, this book perked my ears up even more to the subject of nuclear warfare. It's so easy to hear that a nation has or could soon have nuclear capabilities and feel only the faintest, most abstract fear at the notion. It can additionally be such a distant knowledge that what was presumed to be one of the most human rights embracing nations in the world, this, my country of origin, is the only nation in the world throughout all of history to have made the decision to unleash such massive rage and suffering against fellow human beings in pursuit of dominance and stability. This supposedly great nation conducted this and one other mission, permanently damaging the genetic makeup of thousands upon thousands of people, and it terrifies me about what's to come. This book terrified me.
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Comments (showing 1-39 of 39) (39 new)

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message 1: by rachel (new)

rachel Wow.


message 2: by rachel (new)

rachel (by which I mean that 3 is Horrifying.)


Paquita Maria Sanchez I know! And disgusting.


message 4: by Adam (new)

Adam Floridia Amazing review.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Read this book!


message 6: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie It is a deeply affecting book - I read it many years ago and still remember how it made me feel. And, it is so strange how all the people he focuses on were just a few hundred metres from epicentre of the explosion.


TK421 well said.


Paquita Maria Sanchez I'm more than a little bit pissed that I wasn't made to read this while studying Japanese sociology in college. What the fuck? Everyone capable of emotion should read this, let alone students of the subject specifically.


TK421 try black rain by masuji ibuse


Paquita Maria Sanchez I watched that movie years ago, and it destroyed me. I want to read that book, too. And have it destroy me again.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Dooooo it. Oh, and then write a really, really long, thorough, broad-in-scope review about it. That's a dare, sir! A hardcore dare!


message 12: by Paquita Maria (last edited May 11, 2012 09:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez Right. As you know, I hear ya. This entire time period was not a subject to bring up in my house growing up, and that's probably still the case today (basically, you just do not talk about WW2 at all, and you reaaaaally don't talk about Imperial Japan, or Pearl Harbor, or the a-bomb, or kamikaze fighter pilots, or...)

I guess that fear of talking about some seriously shit-stirring political issues is why I sort of danced around those topics and stuck with how it made me feel and what the act of violence itself reminded me of, trying my best to avoid ranting or politicking and getting lost on tangents which serve to act as inconsistency traps for myself because it's such a complicated subject, and I don't just feel one way about it. Ya know what I'm sayin'? Anyway, I didn't even think I was going to review it, but I really think people should read it, and that's the best way to get 'em to, ya know? Not like I'll be buying this as a Christmas gift for my stepdad any time soon or anything...


Paquita Maria Sanchez Best place to be touched, that is.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Or, well, okay...I guess some would consider that statement debatable.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Heh...touched in the head is the way to be. Yeah, I pretty much just said that.


message 16: by Manny (new)

Manny You know... I really like this review, and a close friend of mine went to school in Hiroshima and got to know many hibakusha, and I am completely for nuclear disarmament... and yet, having read a fair amount about it, I think that President Truman made the right decision to use the atom bomb against Japan in 1945. He didn't know then what we know now, and he saw it as the best chance to avoid the deaths of millions of people in the planned invasion of Japan. It is so hard to think back to his historical context. From his point of view, it would have been crazy not to use this miraculous new weapon.


message 17: by Manny (new)

Manny I have heard the theory advanced before, and I am looking forward to reading the relevant part of Quigley! I must get back to that book...


message 18: by Paquita Maria (last edited May 11, 2012 02:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez Oof, I'm staying out of this one. You boys have fun. Well, okay...I'm no hippity dippity who thinks that there is some means of Bringing About World Peace to where there is never another war ever again and everything is just roses, I understand the importance of nations asserting themselves and not just snoring with their pants down, etc, but I would just sort of sliiiide it out there that we have managed, everyone has managed, warring at various intervals and shifting power back and forth since the dawn of time without it requiring the utter annihilation of a civilian population as some sort of symbolic bitch slap, like God drowning the whole world save for this random asshole family just because some of those drowned people had pissed him off. Then again, I also understand WW2 would have very likely continued on for many years had it not happened that way; I understand the argument in a sober, emotionally detached sense. Still, man. Jeesh, this is why I didn't even want to go here. Yes, it's complicated for all of us, a swirling mess of strategy and humanity conflicting, the cold and calculating greeting the collective conscious, etc. Yes, messy.

(Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if ya didn't have some pretty strong feelings about nu-kyoo-lur combat.)


message 19: by Manny (new)

Manny It is horrible and almost impossible to think about. But consider that the immediate casualties from Hiroshima - the ones that could be anticipated - were probably less than those from the Mar 10 firebombing of Tokyo. I do not think that people had any understanding at that point of radiation sickness or genetic damage.

I read about WW II, where there are many, many incidents that are dreadful on a scale I cannnot even comprehend, and I wonder how we could get so agitated about 9/11 that we thought it justified changing all the rules of our society.


message 20: by Judi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judi You write very well.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Oh, BB, that shit was official forever ago, and you KNOW it.

Uh, kidding. Thanks, all! For the chat about the complicated beast of an issue that is the a-bomb, and for the nicey nice words. As I got in a small wreck today and feel like I've spent weeks headbanging in hell as a result, I'm going to go curl up with a warm towel and whine for a while now. High-fives all around!


message 22: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Mariel wrote: "Black Rain is great but I know some of my Gr friends really disliked the quality of the translation. I didn't mind. It touched my brain places."

Memory: Fragments of a Modern History talks about what happens when people actually touch your brain.


message 23: by Jim (new)

Jim Manny wrote: "It is horrible and almost impossible to think about. But consider that the immediate casualties from Hiroshima - the ones that could be anticipated - were probably less than those from the Mar 10 f..."

For example, the fire bombing of Dresden - 135,000 killed in a single attack. Witnessed by PFC Vonnegut and inspired him to write Slaughterhouse-Five.

As horrific as Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, conventional warfare kills everyday, in one form or another. I'm living in the southwest of France in an area not far enough from an airbase. Everyday, Mirage jets fly overhead - sometimes causing sonic booms that rock the house - and I'm reminded just how unpeaceful the world really is - nuclear or otherwise...


Paquita Maria Sanchez Jim wrote: "I'm reminded just how unpeaceful the world really is - nuclear or otherwise..."

Yeah, I've been listening to NPR at work for most of the day every day for the past few weeks, and I think it may be giving me an ulcer.


message 25: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Another game for Milos!!!!


message 26: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller I visited the memorials at Hiroshima and had a look at the museum there. Heartbreaking.

Good review.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Thanks, Traveller. I know it would be inappropriate given the subject of this book to comment here about how completely jealous I am that you've been to Japan, so I won't do that and you will never know...


message 28: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I would love to see some Tokyo urban scenes photographed by you, Paquita.


Paquita Maria Sanchez Some day? I have been motivated slash mildly depressed by something I learned on Friday: my boss's son is fluent, yes, fluent in English, French, Russian, and German. Oh, and he's 9. Time to get back to the books! There's a whole wide world out there just waiting for people to stop fretting over the fact that they have to crazy glue their front bumpers back on, sitting around staring at walls and smoking cigarettes while stewing. People do things sometimes. I want to do things!


message 30: by karen (new)

karen don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there


Paquita Maria Sanchez karen wrote: "don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there"

Hah! Well, I don't want to believe that in this particular case. She's such a cool lady and so airy and nice and one of the easiest bosses ever that I find it hard to believe she's driving him off a mental cliff with the whole wonderchild training. She's French, so he was immersed at home, he knows English because he is growing up in America, pretty sure his dad's side of the family has something to do with the German, and he knows Russian because my boss just couldn't manage to find an Austin pre-school which taught Mandarin. Talk about first world problems, sure, but again: she's awesome, and he still seems all bubbly and young and unaware of the world rather than like some hardened, suit-wearing, poorly developed horror movie kid. Shit, I wish I'd been immersed in something, anything while I was that young. If he ends up famous and insane and coked out one day, I'll totally point him out to you "THAT'S HIM!!! You totally nailed it!" You can count on it.


message 32: by Miriam (new)

Miriam People do things sometimes. I want to do things!

ME TOO! I probably won't, but I encourage you!


message 33: by Traveller (last edited May 13, 2012 07:32AM) (new) - added it

Traveller Paquita Maria wrote: "karen wrote: "don't worry - that kid will peak when he is eleven and it will all be downhill from there"

Hah! Well, I don't want to believe that in this particular case. She's such a cool lady a..."


I really hope that won't happen. As long as his emotional and social development is well balanced with his intellectual development, there's no reason to believe that it should. It's not always such an easy balancing act, though.

Oh, it wasn't really for that long, PM, not nearly long enough; Japan is so complex that a short visit only leaves you with a sensory impression really.

There's so many places I have not visited that I'd like to, so no worries, really.

Yes, the Hiroshima part was really sad, but Japan is a beautiful country generally.


message 34: by Brendan (new)

Brendan O'sullivan Best review I've ever read!


message 35: by Hourig (new) - added it

Hourig https://twitter.com/amberinzaman/stat...
Amberin Zaman, wrote:
Hope 4 day when #Turkish leader hugs #ArmenianGenocide survivor, if any left. "Obama Greets Hiroshima Survivors"


Bisrat This review made me rethink the book. Very beautiful review!


Paquita Maria Sanchez Thank you!!!


message 38: by Judi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judi Just started this book. May we ever be forgiven for what we did???


message 39: by Hunter (new)

Hunter Smoking is bad for you!


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