So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes

Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes by Keiji Nakazawa
Barefoot Gen, Out of the Ashes is the 4th volume of Keiji Nakazawa's autobiographical graphic novel series on living through the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima. The atom bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima, destroying most of the city, killing many people, and causing others to become sick with radiation sickness. Gen's hair has fallen out from radiation exposure. He, his mother, and his newborn sister, no longer able to live in Hiroshima, are refugees in the town of Eba.

As this volume opens, the Emperor has just announced the surrender of Japan. Gen's two brothers return to live with them in Eba, one from the Navy and one from an evacuation camp. US soldiers are landing to study the results of the bomb. The distrust and hatred of the local community eventually becomes too much and the family moves back to what is left of Hiroshima. We see the U.S. occupation and the rebuilding of the city through the eyes of seven year old Gen.

Gen's compassion, humanity, and determination make this an inspiring book about the strength of the human spirit. The close loving values of his family are in sharp contrast to the amoral self interest of the black marketeers and the criminals who thrive in the disorder and poverty.

The work has been wonderfully 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. This US edition was published as part of a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread its message. It is a powerful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war. There are a few introductory essays at the front of the book that help to put this book into perspective. It is a tragic but uplifting story that I highly recommend for anyone interested in the topic. This and the other volumes in the series are important books for their message on the dangers of nuclear war.

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