Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked up this book because I was curious to answer a question that had never occurred to me before: how is it that the Japanese people can stand to be allied with the country that dropped two atomic bombs on them? It seemed to boggle my mind; the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened in my father’s lifetime (although he was very, very young at the time) but it demonstrates that this is not ancient history. At least 129,000 people were annihilated and yet . . . as a country, Japan forgave the United States. It’s remarkable when you think about it, especially if you try to imagine what it would be like if the roles were reversed and it had been Japan that had erased two American cities.
But I digress. This book is about the survivors of the bombing of Nagasaki, a group of people that, for some reason, have become a footnote compared to sister city Hiroshima. In history texts, all that seems to be said is “oh, and then Nagasaki was bombed a few days later.”
The book follows the lives of several hibakusha (bomb-affected people) and chronicles their struggles with their horrific injuries and the lifelong, agonizing journey towards trying to heal and live as survivors of an atomic bombing. It’s pretty powerful stuff. It reminds me how little we think about nuclear war today, even though this shadow is always looming over us, always poised. We’ve gotten used to that shadow, but after reading about the lives of those who suffered its embrace, I realize that it’s wrong to quietly pretend it’s not a problem.
This book won’t try to shock you by inviting you to imagine what it would be like if it was YOUR city that was bombed. Instead, it presents the stories and lives of survivors, of real people, and invites you to consider our common humanity. From there, you’re able to work out the rest for yourself; that nuclear weapons are a existential threat to all of humanity.
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