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Monday, 19 January 2009

I started to do this post but I was depressed and didn't. I sat down and started reading Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives, which made me feel better. So here I am. This is the post.

Admittedly, I still feel slightly sick about John Hersey's Hiroshima (first published in 1946; this edition, with an afterword entitled 'The Aftermath', which is chapter five, and which carries on the stories of the individuals Hersey started chronicling for the first edition, was published in 1985).

It's particularly sickening, for me who is well-knowledged about Japan, to realise that nothing was done for the hibakusha (survivors of the bomb) until 1954, a full nine years after the blast. And this only occurred due to outrage fuelled by nationalism in the wake of fallout striking a tuna fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon No. 5, near Bikini Atoll.

This is where the US conducted atomic testing. It is also where the word 'bikini' - as in female swimwear - derives from. The story of the tuna boat fed into the story we now know as Godzilla.

Once this event occurred, the Japanese government passed a law in support of hibakusha. The law led to financial support. But the shame of the initial explosion meant that survivors were pretty much ignored by their countrymen and -women for a decade.

My feeling of illness had nothing to do with, for example, the keloid girls. These school-aged girls had been sent out by Hiroshima's authorities to pull down houses in fear of the use of incendiary bombs by the Americans. Tokyo had been razed using these devices, and the leaders in the southern city feared that a similar strike was due.

Keloids are the highly disfiguring scars that resulted from being exposed to the blast at close range.

No, my feeling of despair had nothing to do with them or the men and women hersey chronicles. Rather, it had to do with the writing itself. It didn't have anything to do with the reluctant triumphalism even Hersey displays (at one point he talks of the "great nuclear experiment"). It had to do with the dry style.

I'm not sure why it bothered me, but it certainly did. I was unable - not just unwilling - to write the post in the mood I found myself in. Something about Hersey's ghoulish curiosity made me feel sick. There's not a lot of compassion in the book. It's as dry as a ten year old match.

Nevertheless, it's a good read. The front cover blurb says that anyone who is able to read should read the book. I don't know if I'd go that far. I certainly would like Hersey to talk more about why the hibakusha were ignored for the most part of a generation by the Japanese government.

I feel it has to do with the sense of shame the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the country to feel. It has something to do with the depressing need of the Japanese to submerge themselves in a larger cause. Their religious attachment to the royal throne is symptomatic of a deeper psychological malaise, I feel.

Anyway, the post's written now. If you can read English, I suggest that at some point you try to get through this book, having got through the post. The scenes painted of the night immediately following the blast are very entertaining.

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