So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Barefoot Gen, Volume Ten: Never Give Up

Barefoot Gen, Volume Ten: Never Give Up by Keiji Nakazawa
The Barefoot Gen series documents the life of young Gen Nakaoka of Hiroshima starting when he is six years old in the summer of 1945 when the USA dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Never Give Up is the tenth and final volume of the series, and is set in Hiroshima in 1953, eight years after the events of the first book. As in previous books, the characters suffer from memories of both the terrors of the war and the horrendous day the atomic bomb destroyed their city and caused their lives to change forever.
Gen and three other orphans of the bomb live together in a small shack and dream of opening their own business making and selling the dresses they now sell as street corner vendors. Gen has also been learning to be an artist while working at a sign shop, and falls in love with his boss's daughter. Yet the long lasting effects of the atomic bomb on the people of Hiroshima's bodies and their souls will not let them live in peace. Memories of the horrendous day and its aftereffects continue to fill their minds, as the silent poison of radiation sickness eats away at their bodies.
The anti-war theme that has pervaded this series, starting in the first book with Gen's father and his opposition to the war that the military and the emperor have forced on the nation, is especially visible in this, the last book of the series. In this book the author outlines Japanese war crimes and makes a call for a world without war, especially calling for an end to atomic weapons. The book opens with a short two page introduction called "Gen's Message: A Plea For Nuclear Abolition" written by the translators and editors of Project Gen. It states clearly that "nuclear weapons and nuclear power cannot coexist with life on Earth." This strong pacifist message against war and nuclear power gives the ten volume story of the bomb and its aftermath a structure and a meaning far beyond simple history.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Barefoot Gen, Volume 9: Breaking Down Borders

Barefoot Gen, Volume 9: Breaking Down Borders by Keiji Nakazawa

The Barefoot Gen series documents the life of young Gen Nakaoka of Hiroshima starting when he is six years old in the summer of 1945 when the USA dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Volume 9 takes place at the end of 1950 and through 1951. Gen is now 12 years old, and as the book opens the city has condemned the small hut that his family had called home. The rest of his family has either died from the blast or radiation sickness, or moved out. Now homeless, Gen decides to move in with the group of orphans he has befriended who have their own hut. While he is happy to be near the girl Natsue that he is fond of, her radiation sickness is now in its final stages and she is dying. After Natsue dies he is heartbroken but the spirit to live on through any adversity that his father instilled in him keeps him from despair.

The same spirit that has helped him and all who come in contact with him as they struggle out of the hellish remains of the atomic destruction of their city and their lives, now helps an artist in despair. The artist returns the favor by teaching Gen how to draw. The artist tells Gen "Art Has No Borders" which inspires him to learn the universal language of art so that he can break down the national barriers that led to the war and the destruction of his beloved city. As the book ends he dreams of a peaceful world free of war where all the countries are connected by rainbow bridges that people can cross freely and be friends.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Dreaming Spies

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Dreaming Spies finds Mary Russell and her husband Sherlock Holmes in three separate settings during the years 1924-25; on a ship from India to Japan, in a small inn along the ancient Japanese Kisokaido Road, and in Oxford, London and the countryside of England. On board the ship from India Holmes sees the Earl of Darley, his young new wife, and his adult son. He remembers the Earl from before the war when he was involved in blackmailing. Mary Russell meets a Japanese woman who is returning home from her studies in England and asks her to teach Russell and Holmes some Japanese language and culture.

Laurie King takes the readers slowly into a finely-crafted mystery filled with great attention to detail. She brings to life first the confined life on a steamship, then the turbulent changes sweeping over Japan as it transitions from a traditional to a modern culture, and also the academic community of Oxford and the Bodleian Library. Each chapter is introduced by a haiku written by King. This story of international blackmail at the highest levels of political life increases in intensity as it builds to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.