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Black rain over Hiroshima

21 September 2019

Black RainBlack Rain by Masuji Ibuse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A novel that tells how one family coped with the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.

Shigematsu Sizuma, as guardian of his niece Yasuko, is concerned that rumours that she suffered from radiation sickness might harm her prospects of marriage. He decides to transcribe both Yasuko’s and his own diaries of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, with a connecting narrative, to show potential suitors that she was out of town at the time the bomb fell. The result is an account of the nine days between the dropping of the bomb and the end of the war,

Shigematsu describes what he and his family saw and did in those nine days, supplemented with accounts from other people’s diaries. It is a sober and sobering account of the effects of a nuclear bomb on a city. Though it is published as a novel, it reads like a historical documentary. Perhaps it was based on actual diaries, with a few names and places changed.

Shigematsu was at a station waiting for a train to take him to work when the bomb fell, and was slightly injured by the blast. He walked home to find what had happened to his family, and encountered many injured refugees fleeing from the city, where fires were spreading rapidly.

Novels about disasters often have a kind of survivalist theme. The disaster causes a total breakdown of societal cohesion and law and order, and the protagonist is usually trying to save a small group from the general disorder. The overwhelming impression in this book, however, is the spirit of “Keep calm and carry on“. The spirit of self-discipline, fortitude, and remaining calm in adversity that the British were urged to display at the beginning of the war was displayed by the Japanese at its end.

Mr Shizuma and his family go to stay at a house near the factory where he works, after their own house burns down, and he then carries on trying to procure coal to keep production in the factory going. There a strong sense of discipline in the face of disaster. An example of this is when it was discovered that the Mayor had been killed in the bombing:

Deputy Mayor Shihata had taken charge of municipal affairs since Kuriya’s death, Tashiro said. The twenty-odd employees at their posts in the city office were dealing with business of every kind with the aid of a dozen or so chairs miraculously spared in the fire, one mimeographing machine, and files made by clipping together other documents and using the backs. None of them had anything but the clothes he stood up in, since they had all been burned out of their homes. and along with several dozen of the injured they were living a communal life, doing their own cooking, in the ruins of their office. They had cleared the litter of broken glass, charred wood, scrap[ metal and the like into a corner of the room, and had rigged up a tent that they had borrowed from the army barracks in place of a window. For offices, they had the defense, health, and relief sections on the south-east of the first floor, which had survived the flames.

The events are not overdramatised, but are told in an almost scientific way, trying to describe as exactly as possible the impressions what had taken place.

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