So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Vol. 1

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, Vol. 1 by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima is an autobiographical graphic novel series that has ten volumes which was written by Keiji Nakazawa and relates his experiences during and after the atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This first volume relates the experiences of Daikichi Nakaoka and his family from April 1945 to that historic and catastrophic day. He and his pregnant wife Kimie, and their five children Koji, Eiko, Akira, Gen, Shinji struggle to find food to eat as all supplies are shipped to the military to support the war effort. Their lives are complicated by his outspoken opposition to the war for which he is labelled a traitor. Throughout the book, he makes his feelings known.
"Japan will lose the war for sure." (p. 6)
"Japan can only survive by foreign trade. We should keep peace with the rest of the world." (p.13)
"The military was misled by the rich. They started the war to grab resources by force." (p.13)
"For poor people like us, war doesn't do one damn bit of good." (p. 18)
"It's because I love Japan that I'm against the war." (p. 32)
"War brings us nothing but misery. Japan has to walk the path of peace, not war." (p. 34)
"The only way to prevent war is to be friends with other people." (p. 74)
"The ones who started the war are to blame, but every citizen who willingly goes along with it is at fault also." (p. 168)

Mr. Nakaoka is taken to jail and beaten, his children are persecuted at school, the family is shunned, and their efforts to live are thwarted. The only friend they have is their Korean neighbor Mr. Pak who was brought to Hiroshima by force to work in a factory. The narrative progresses through the eyes of young 6 year old Gen and his little brother Shinji as they cry in hunger and devise methods to find and eat food.

The last 50 pages of the book that portray the events of August 6 leading up to and following the atomic bomb blast are the most compelling graphic novel content I have ever read. The story of how Gen's family survives is told in the subsequent volumes.

The work has been well translated from the Japanese original: Hadashi no Gen. It was originally published in serial form in 1972 and 1973 in Shukan Shonen Jampu, the largest weekly comic magazine in Japan, with a circulation of over two million. The drawings are all in black and white. It is a wonderful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war.

The book begins with an Introduction by the American cartoonist Art Spiegelman and A Note from the Author. These set this graphic novel series in perspective of the genre of autobiographical graphic novels for adults and the author's life. A publisher's note at the end tells the story of Project Gen, a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread around the world its message of the threat of nuclear war..


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