Tuesday, 29 December 2009


H :A Hiroshima Novel, is a book that has appeared under different titles, originally published in Japan in 1984 by Kodansha with the title Hiroshima, then in it's first English translation in 1990, it's title was 'The Bomb', then finally in the 1995 paperback edition here as, H :A Hiroshima Novel. The image above is a detail of the paperback edition , the original artist is unnamed. The translation into English is by D.H Whittaker. I've wanted to read this book for quite a while and started it not really knowing what to expect, Makoto Oda's novel opens in the desert near the Mexico border, just at the start of the Pacific War. Joe likes to go running in the mountains, and in the area that is known as White Sands. Joe works for Will on the old man's ranch and goes to church on Sundays to meet girls, one in particular, Peggy has had feelings for Joe for sometime, but hasn't acted on them. She learns that he's the famous runner, just like local hero Chuck, a native American who competed in the Olympics. Peggy has an older sister Susan and other characters around the small village/settlement are introduced, Mr Griggs who runs the local chemist, Ken who plans to buy the ranch from Will who will move on to Florida, he wants Joe to stay on at the ranch but Joe doesn't like Ken too much, besides after Pearl Harbour his draft is imminent. Chuck and his nephew Ron meet up in the desert, and Chuck talks about the Hopi , of Sotuknang and the Tawa, (in the novel spelt Taiowa), sensing they will be amongst the chosen to survive into the new world when the present world is about to be destroyed, they find a cave in the desert which they plan to use as a sanctuary.

Mr Griggs lost a leg fighting in the last war and his thoughts turn to a Japanese who fought along side him called Tajiri, that night he has a dream that he is on a bombing raid with Tajiri, strangely in the morning he recieves a letter from Tajiri saying that he is now in an internment camp, protesting that he had fought in the American army in the last war,but despite this he's imprisoned. Mr Griggs feels he alone is powerless to help his old comrade. People in the village start to complain about the Native Americans beliefs that they can't go to war, believing that they are related to the Japanese, rumour goes around that the Army are planning to take the land the Native American settlement is on and use it as some kind of testing site. The narrative focuses on life for the Japanese in the internment camp, along with Tajiri's family is the Nakata's from Hiroshima, in the camp groups are formed into those loyal to Japan and those with leanings to the Americans. One of Nakata's sons Tommy had returned to Japan, staying with an uncle, he's bullied at school. Time moves on in the village and Will returns on a visit from Florida, Joe's been drafted and Susan's husband Al sends letters back, he's fighting in the Pacific Islands, Ken tells him about the research center built behind his old ranch, in which their building some kind of rocket.

The novel shifts to telling the story of Eul Sun a Korean girl living in Hiroshima, and the hard life she has, marrying a Korean man much older than herself, he gets drunk and beats her, he eventually succumbs to tuberculosis. Again the narrative switches to another new character, Keiji from Osaka who has relocated to Hiroshima, attending the same school as Tommy Nakata,(or Tomio now that he's in Japan), Tomio caught in the bullying, bullied in America for being Japanese and then bullied in Japan, accused of being a spy by the other children. Keiji's cousin Kikuko is set to marry Lieutenant Hashida. In the village in the desert Chuck is found dead at the bottom of a precipice, some believe it was suicide. Mr Griggs is awoken early one morning by a light like a 'magnesium flash',and then the bang, George, a Native American witnesses it too from his prison cell, refusing the draft, he's imprisoned. Joe, on his third mission flight over the Japanese mainland gets shot down, as the crew bail out they ask, 'Where are we?', 'On the outskirts of Hiroshima' the answer comes. Kyoko, a friend of Kikuko, has been asked to visit a foreign exchange student in hospital, Hassan, on her way she sees some Americans who had been captured after they're plane had been shot down, (Joe). Kyoko manages to persuade the nurse to let her visit him although visiting hours hadn't started, when one of the nurses looking out of the window sees in the sky the silver reflection of the bomber and a black dot.

The second part of the novel, which is very brief only a few pages long, concerns Joe as he stumbles around the bombed ruins, blindfolded when captured he avoids being blinded by the flash,memories of Peggy and running in White Sands come to him,and hears a voice telling him to keep walking. Desperate for water he finds a river,then he's spotted by a group of children, most of them suffering from their burns, they discover he's American and they pull him to the ground. The last part of the novel is set in probably the 1980's in a hospital ward, Dan Peshrakai,a Native American who worked in the mines, extracting uranium for the center is dying of cancer. A boy is admitted to the ward, born blind, he too has stomach cancer, his parents died drinking contaminated water from a river near the mine. The boy exhibits strange behaviour, when asked what his name is,he tells them Ron,and he calls Dan, Chuck, after a while, Uncle Chuck. An American army veteran is put on the ward also suffering from cancer. The novel is interesting in a number of ways, although set against the backdrop of the Hiroshima bomb it looks at it's effects before it was dropped and after, also exploring numerous themes, race relations, Japanese internment camps, in this fictional account of the first nuclear testing, the Hopi way of life is explored quite in-depth in the book, and permeates throughout the novel, something I never knew about this until I picked up this novel. Another novel by Makoto Oda has also appeared in English translation, 'The Breaking Jewel', which I'd like to read in the future.

No comments: