I didn’t enjoy this book, but I would still recommend it.
In 1946, John Hersey spoke to six people who had been in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped, he then wrote the story of what happened to them on that day and afterwards. In 1985, forty years after the attack he wrote about what had happened to them over the years.
The atomic bomb attack is one of the key moments of World War II but yet is one I’ve never really heard about in depth before. I dimly recall reading something about it in school but that was a short piece, and fictional, I think. But here Hersey presents a detailed and at times difficult to read retelling of the horrors that the city endured.
Hersey’s writing is strikingly evocative and doesn’t flinch from the grim details. He reflects the responses of his subjects and their mindset, often almost numbed by the relentless suffering they witness. There are moments recounted here that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
Almost as grim as the first few days is the story of the aftermath, with people suffering from radiation sickness and having to rebuild their shattered lives in a devastated city. One of the survivors, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, endeavours after the war to help his fellow survivors and also to work towards peace. During this sequence, Hersey inserts updates on the nuclear proliferation that followed, and ends with a depressing note that just as Tanimoto’s memory starts to fail it appears the world’s collective memory is already forgetting the horrors of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
This is a tough read in places, filled with heartbreaking tragedy and moments of genuine horror. And yet there are also moments of kindness and heroism, as well as quiet moments of endurance and personal strength.
It’s worth reading for providing an insight into an important piece of history which is often glossed over or reduced to statistics. To see the human face of the suffering makes it resonate even more and highlights the evil of nuclear weapons.
Verdict: Grim but powerful reading, Hersey’s skilled writing captures the chaos and pain of the events that follow the bombing. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.