"On the basis of a return visit 40 years after the dropping of the bomb, Hersey has written a ’’final chapter’’ to one of the most important books to come out of World War II. The new chapter follows a reprint of the original text on the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and is written in the same spare, objective style. In it, Hersey brings up to date the lives of six survivors he covered so brilliantly in 1946. Once again he evokes the humdrum and the surreal elements in the aftermath of the bomb, and with eloquent simplicity he includes statements of other nations’ nuclear tests. Compelling, unforgettable, and more timely than ever, this is absolutely essential for collections from junior high on." (text taken from Amazon)
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Hiroshima Review by Oliver Jia
Oliver Jia, NCTA Student Worker
Written by China-born American journalist John Hersey, Hiroshima is a seminal work that was among the first to “humanize” the Japanese people for Western audiences following the conclusion of WWII. It covers the stories of six survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb which gives it a highly personal style. Americans previously only saw the atomic bombings of Japan through newsreels, and the intense feelings of wartime hatred resulted in the public being largely in favor of their use. With Hersey’s explicit account, however, many were able to sympathize with the Japanese far more and it fueled debate that continues to this very day.
The book itself is written in plain language and is not difficult to follow even after over 70 years from its publication. Since it was originally composed as a work of journalism for The New Yorker, it always had mass appeal in mind which allowed it to sustain a continuous legacy as a classic. It has high value in the classroom whether related to history or even just standard American literature. Although dealing with heavy themes, I think that Hiroshima is perfectly acceptable for use from the middle school level onwards. Educators can utilize it as a way to inspire students to consider both sides of the argument regarding the atomic bombs, while it also does a good job at educating young students about the final days of WWII for both Japan and America.
This novel would be a good fit for middle school or young high school students in either a social studies or English class. From the perspective of an English class, it would be a wonderful way to introduce New Journalism, in which storytelling devices of the novel are fused with non-fiction reportage, much along the same vein as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but much more manageable for younger grades. Hersey's novel is an account of the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, as it follows six survivors, including a seamstress, two doctors, a factory worker and a German Jesuit priest. What struck me, however, was his use of the basic elements of fiction and impressive facility with language to elicit emotion and perspective from said survivors. In fact, when Hersey himself reflects upon his work, it is these elements, he says, that makes it most memorable, not the news flashes and bulletins.
Six Survivors and the Endurance of the Human Spirit
Thru the stories of the 6 survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima one may be suprised that there is little talk about blame or hatred. As the book doucuments events right after the bombing honest stories of suffering, compassion, strength and numbness to the horrors are told. In the days and weeks following the blast each suffers and copes in a variety of ways: Dr. Sasaki worked to sheer exhaustion at the Red Cross Hospital where at one point there were 9 doctors for 10,000 patients, Toshiko Sasaki suffered from a leg injury that could not be given the proper medical attention and was almost amputated, Hatsuyo Nakamura perserved in difficult jobs in order to support her three children despite the continual effects of the radiation sickness which all the survivors endured to varying degrees. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, the German Jesuit lived a life of misery from his injuries but adopted the Japanese spirit of "enryo" putting others wishes first, your own aside and eventually became a Japanese citizen. The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto chose the path of "moving on" and preached to those who sought his guidance. Dr. Masakazu Fujii initially missing was located and within a short time continued his path enjoying life and living to the fullest. Interwoven with these stories, the book also includes facts about the atom bomb and the terrible extent of its destruction as well as the plight of all the "hibakusha" the name given to all the survivors of the blast. It is also powerful in its documentation of how others nations in addition to the U.S. continued to test hydrogen, atomic and nuclear bombs with no seeming regard to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author revisits all the survivors forty years after the blast to find that what they have in common is that almost all of them used this experience and the strength of their survival to help other in a variety of ways. It gives one hope as it shows the resilience of the human spirit and its depth of compassion. It also addresses the opinion that war is the problem and the atomic bomb was only the instrument, for what is needed according to Tanimoto is that, "The politicians of the world should come to Hiroshima and contemplate the world's political problems on their knees before the centaph" (151). I would recommend this book for a high school level class, I teach middle school and would use excerpts from "Hiroshima" in addition to the book "The Girl with the White Flag" by Tomiko Higa for my students.
good resource for high school classroom
This is an excellent read and perspective on the atomic bomb dropping that most students do not take the time to think about. Being able to read about how the bomb affected the lives of people in Japan from the perspective of people who were actually there helps to really understand the depth of destruction and despair caused by this incident. The book is well written and fairly short in length which lends itself well to the high school classroom because it would be able to keep kids engaged and not overwhelm them as far as required reading length goes. It's commonly known to students that the atomic bomb helped end the war but they do not really take into account what the impact of this event really was and how truly devastating this was to the people of Japan.
This book would be a good read for multiple grades and subject areas. You could easily tie this in to a history, science, or literature class and have the students take away something good from it.
A time-tested classic that looks at the dark hours following the dropping of the atomic bomb. Beyond its obvious uses (demonstrating the destruction of atomic bombs), it can be used in more nuanced ways with engaged students. For instance, you can discuss with your students objectivity and the role of the historian. You can also analyze the choice of subjects (Christians, doctors and nurses, priests) and discuss Hersey's motives for using these people. In short, this is a great text that is appropriate for grades 9-12.