Hiroshima Summary, Review PDF

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was the target of the first city-wide atomic bombing. This book, John Hersey’s journalistic magnum opus, chronicles the events of that day. This moving document “stirs the conscience of humanity” is a collection of first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors.

Nearly four decades after the initial publication of this acclaimed book, John Hersey returned to Hiroshima in an attempt to track down the people whose stories he had told. He wrote an eloquent and moving conclusion to Hiroshima detailing what he discovered about them.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Hiroshima Book Summary

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima that devastated the city. Hiroshima is an account of the lives of six survivors, who each reacted in a different way to the devastation. But all six share one thing in common: “They still wonder why they lived when so many others died.”

Miss Sasaki was just settling into her job as a clerk for the East Asia Tin Works. As the young woman turned her head away from the window to make a comment to a coworker, “the room was filled with a blinding light.” Her immediate terror was replaced by unconsciousness as loaded bookcases tumbled on top of her. “In the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.” Three hours later someone dug the stunned secretary out. Her left leg, though not severed, “was badly broken and cut and it hung askew below the knee.” 

Sasaki was taken outside into a downpour and left there on the ground, helpless and wet. Finally a man fashioned a lean-to out of some scraps to cover her, along with two other survivors. One “roommate” was a woman with one of her breasts blown off, and the other was a man whose face was completely burned. “Sasaki lay for two days and two nights under the piece of propped-up roofing with her crushed leg and two unpleasant comrades.”

Dr Fujii, a wealthy physician, had barely “sat down cross-legged in his underwear … and started reading the Osaka Asahi,” when the bomb exploded, suddenly leaving him “squeezed tightly by two long timbers in a V across his chest, like a morsel suspended between two huge chopsticks,” above the waters of the Kyo River. There he remained, until he realized that the tide was coming in – he would drown within minutes. With almost superhuman strength, Fujii extricated himself from his trap. 

By then fires were raging nearby. When the flames subsided, the doctor made his way to his family’s home five miles outside of the city. Though his own shoulder was badly broken, he examined and treated many other wounded along the way.

On that same fateful day, Mrs Nakamura was watching her neighbor at work on his house. Suddenly “everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen.” She was thrown several feet, and timbers and tiles showered down upon her. Freeing herself from the rubble, Nakamura began a frantic search for her children. She found all three still alive, and after prying them loose from the wreckage of what had been their home, she led them to Asano Park, the neighborhood meeting place for bombing raids. There they joined others who, like themselves, were wounded, bewildered and in shock.

In the park was Father Kleinsorge. The blast had completely destroyed the mission where the Jesuit priest and other brothers lived, and they had sought refuge in the park’s bamboos, pines, laurel and maples. 

Now Father Kleinsorge and the other priests were trying as best they could to provide aid and comfort. Near the faucet where the priests made trips to get water, were “about twenty men … all in the same nightmarish state: their faces were wholly burned, their eye-sockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks.” Offering them a drink, Father Kleinsorge found their mouths to be mere “swollen, pus-covered wounds” that could not draw the water in. He fashioned some straws from large stems of grass, an effort which saved a number of lives.

Like Father Kleinsorge, Mr Tanimoto, a Protestant minister, gave spirited assistance in the bomb’s aftermath. However, there was little he could do for those who were entangled in the ruins of toppled buildings. Fire swept through the city, preventing crews from reaching survivors. Tanimoto “was filled with compassion for those who were trapped, and … overwhelmed by the shame of being unhurt. 

As he ran, he prayed, ‘God help them and take them out of the fire.’” Desperately he tried to extract the wounded; he transported water; and later, he piloted a boat to ferry survivors across the river to the sanctuary of Asano Park.

Dr Sasaki was hurrying a blood sample down the hall of the Red Cross Hospital when his eyeglasses were blown off his face. The bottle he carried was broken, but he was unhurt. The hospital, though, flew into a state of chaos. Its staff was not prepared for the number of injured. “By nightfall, ten thousand victims of the explosion had invaded the Red Cross Hospital, and Dr Sasaki, worn out, was moving aimlessly and dully up and down the stinking corridors with wads of bandage and bottles of Mercurochrome, still wearing the glasses he had taken from [a] wounded nurse, binding up the worse cuts as he came to them.” After nineteen straight hours of work, when Sasaki tried to nap, wounded patients woke him up: “Doctor! Help us! How can you sleep?” There were so many dead that it was impossible to keep track of their names.

Rebuilding Hiroshima’s devastated structures took many years. But rebuilding the shattered lives of its survivors took much longer. “The Japanese tended to shy away from the term ‘survivors,’ because in its focus on being alive it might suggest some slight to the sacred dead.” Instead, those who came out alive were “called by a more neutral name, ‘hibakusha’ – literally, ‘explosion-affected persons.’” 

For years the “hibakusha” suffered – physically, emotionally and financially: The Japanese government refused to help them economically because they did not wish to take responsibility for “heinous acts of the victorious United States.” Moreover, hibakusha were discriminated against by potential employers. This prejudice was not completely unfounded, in that many survivors bore a lasting sickness that made victims weak, dizzy, and “aggravated by a feeling of oppression.”

Following the war, Mrs Nakamura lived in poverty. Widowed and sick, she was left with only an old sewing machine that she had hidden in a well. With this rusted contraption, she was able to take in a little sewing, along with other odd jobs. All through her ordeal, she and her children were sustained by a short Japanese phrase: “Shikata ga-nai” (“It can’t be helped”). In 1957, the Japanese government finally began paying some of her medical costs.

Economically, Dr Sasaki suffered very little during the post-war years. However, he was “still racked by memories of the appalling days and nights right after the explosion.” To distance himself from these memories, he quit the Red Cross and went into private practice. A bout with lung cancer nearly took his life in 1963. 

But as the years passed, “Sasaki came to think of that experience as the most important of his life.” He sought closer relationships with family members and viewed medicine – the art of compassion – with a new eye. He devoted his medical attentions to serving the elderly. “Do your duty to your patients first,” he would remind his staff each morning. “Let the money follow; our life is short, we don’t live twice.”

Father Kleinsorge was constantly vexed by “fever, diarrhea, wounds that would not heal, wildly fluctuating blood counts, and utter exhaustion.” His was a classic example of radiation sickness. Nevertheless, he “lived this life of misery with the most extraordinarily selfless spirit,” continuing his religious duties and visiting hibakushas. In fact, his colleagues thought that “he was a little too much concerned for others, and not enough for himself.” Eventually he became a Japanese citizen, and died still doing what he could to relieve the suffering of others.

Among those introduced by Father Kleinsorge to Catholicism, Miss Sasaki, now crippled, was one of the most stubborn. How could she believe in a God who would allow the suffering she had endured and witnessed? Still, Miss Sasaki was “warmed and healed by the priest’s faithfulness to her, for it was obvious that he, too, was weak and in pain, yet he walked great distances to see her.” In time, she was converted. Meanwhile, unable to support her siblings, she finally placed them in an orphanage. 

Fortunately, the orphanage gave her work so she could remain close to them. After a few years, nuns who worked at the facility arranged for her to have orthopedic surgery, which partially straightened her leg. She developed the opinion “unconventional for a hibakusha: that too much attention was paid to the power of the A-bomb, and not enough to the evil of war.” Devoted to the cause of peace and humanity, she later chose to enter a convent as a nun.

Dr Fujii “suffered from none of the effects of radiation overdose, and he evidently felt that for any psychological damage the horrors of the bombing may have done him, the best therapy was to follow the pleasure principle.” After constructing a new clinic in 1948, he ceased working long hours and increasingly sought the company of foreigners, spending his evenings drinking with US soldiers and playing mah-jongg at his home. This life came to a sad end when a gas accident left him a brain-damaged vegetable until his death in 1973.

Finally, Mr Tanimoto, unlike the others, grew intensely involved in the politics of the Hiroshima bombing. He devoted much time to helping women left with horrible keloid scars on their faces to travel to America for plastic surgery, while also actively fighting to secure financial aid for victims. He went on speaking tours of the United States and became so well-known in America, that he appeared as the main subject of the television program “This Is Your Life” and offered an invocation in the US Senate. 

The reception he received when he arrived home, however, was not so warm. Some viewed him as a publicity monger. Furthermore, many US agencies suspected his motives, or charged that his “naive” speeches were a boost to the leftist cause. Tanimoto finally retired from politics and refused to work in any of the local peace movements in Hiroshima.

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Hiroshima Book Review

John Hersey’s Hiroshima became controversial with its initial publication right after the war. Some accused Hersey of being “un-American” for presenting a Japanese viewpoint. But the real impact of the book was made by its graphic, true-to-life portrayal of the horrors of atomic war.

Hiroshima, regardless of its ethical stance, is a valuable contribution to literature, a window through which we witness the suffering and the triumph of many souls. As glimpsed through Hersey’s eyes and then recorded by his hand, the small kindnesses in the midst of horrible destruction are powerfully laid out in a style that is at once subtle and sensitive, vivid and hard-hitting.

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