This is an excellent book to start with if you are curious about the bombing of Hiroshima and have little historical context for it. As it stands though the book falls a bit flat on a historical narrative and instead attempts to tell six personal tales about those who managed to survive the bombing.
These are stories worth telling, but I’m not sure pushing all of them into a single 150 page book was the wisest course of action. The human elements are there, cast out and pulled in like some manic fisherman as he attempts to find his ending.
The prose are passable, but given how he seems to want to tell something like a fictional account of non-fictional people I feel like I was waiting for something more artful, if I can be forgiven the expectation. We are given details that would fit and even be rendered into something poetic in a novelist’s hands, but as a history it left me wondering what details he left on the cutting room floor and what conceivable reason he had for including the ones that he did.
The book is haunting because of its subject. It would take an extraordinarily incompetent sort of writer to fail to turn the tragedy of hundreds of thousands into anything less. The first half of the book tackles the falling of the bomb and its immediate aftermath, while the last half focuses on the decades after. There are some clever flourishes near the end with Hersey interrupting the tale of a victim’s tribulations intermittently to remind us that while these people suffered unfathomable hardships, other countries test and hoard their own nuclear weapons.
It’s a sad book, one that is required reading for a reason I can understand. It tries to do away with the dryness of outright history, but stumbles into its finish line feeling both wandering and rushed. As I said at the beginning of the review, it will serve you well if you know little or nothing of just how the world changed on August 6, 1945.
“Over everything—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of the plants intact; it had stimulated them.” ― John Hersey, Hiroshima