Nagasaki -Susan Southard

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1945 – The story of five teenage survivors from the atomic  bombing of Nagasaki told through each injury, thought, fear and emotion you can imagine

Story

On August 9th, 1945

Barely three days after Hiroshima, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. More than 74000 people died and a further 75000 were injured. The aftermath was just as painful for those who lived through it however since it changed their lives forever. For five teenagers, at the stage of their lives where their entire futures lie unstained and free in front of them, the changes must have been especially hard to bear least of all to try and understand.

How do you move on from something so devastating and evil? How do you learn to live in such a world when you have faced such horrific murder and barely escaped with your life?

When your life has barely begun…

Place and Setting

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What you have read in history books or in history lessons, this book takes you to the heart of one of the most devastating events in human history. Did these people survive in every sense of the word or are they just living with evil?

Nuclear war may have ended global wars but has devastated so many lives in the process and unlike the initial explosion, the effects linger on for many many years and down through many generations.

This books allows you to experience a part of history by talking to those who were there, who felt every shudder, every blast, every consequence of that horrific day.  Susan sits with you and each of these five survivors in turn and gives a full and heartbreaking account of the impact of war.  They even have a name for these people – those who survived are known as hibakusha (“bomb-affected people”) and seem to live through a sense of shame and the stigma of having survived when so many people did not.

What makes this especially interesting is that of course in the Japan of 1946, the freedom of press or even thought was very different to what it is today and what you might imagine. Such a horrific turn of events and no freedom with which to try and get through it and make sense of it as best a teenager can.

Review

There are some books that you read and remember and others that sear each and every word on your heart. This is definitely both but certainly the second.

Now although I love reading history and about real life war situations, I did come to this thinking that I knew about Nagasaki and wondering what I could really learn afresh. We studied this at University and I’ve read and studied many accounts and interviews. Not like this though. The research is impeccable and I just can’t imagine the effort on behalf of the author and the raw emotions which the survivors had to dig deep to recover.

There are pictures dotted throughout this book but to be honest the real horror is between each and every word. It is an honour to spend time with each of these people and to peer inside their minds and hearts.

An intimate and heartbreaking portrayal of one of the most horrific war times acts and a new insight into what the consequences of this single event had on the teenagers of the day.

Can bombs ever be the answer? They end one war but start quite another.

Author info:

http://www.susansouthard.com/

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A World Book Trail on World Book Day!

 

Happy World Book day everyone! After the excitement of the Book Oscars and the Read Regional this week, we just had to do a world book trail on World Book Day

And this is the book – a travel memoir with a difference –

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There are three different ones in three different countries – Spain, Japan and the Ukraine

So, do you fancy a trip around the world on World Book Day? The booktrail did!

the trail in Spain
the trail in Spain

Camino de Santiago in Spain

 

This was the most interesting one since it brought back many memories of my own backpacking and walking days. The etiquette of talking to other walkers of finding out their own reasons for walking such a route is as fascinating to the writer as it was to read about –

 

The major etiquette point on route is the phrase ‘Buen Camino’. It’s a salutation and a valediction, but its most important role is in establishing boundaries.’

We get buen camino’d with some frequency

 

I smiled at the latter quote – Buen Camino translates as ‘ Enjoy your walk’ ‘Have a good journey’ and is a nicer phrase than our English ‘ Hello’ that we tend to say to passing hikers. It’s nice to talk to people on your journey and wonder why they are doing it – are they there for the same reasons as you?

The Santiago de Camino is a very famous religious pilgrimage of tracing the route of an old roman road in Spain. This is perhaps the most traditional of the writer’s pilgrimages – he is accompanied by a friend and meets many people along the way which makes for some interesting observations –

If Catholics see the reward for arrival as full plenary indulgence, ‘The rest of us are cagey about what to expect. But almost every pilgrim we meet over the next thirty-nine days admits to some feeling, however muted or vague, of transition or crisis.

 

The scenery is vividly described –

 

The path is cut between the bald foothills of the Pyrenees on our right and some lowland pastures on our left.

Blue and yellow scallop-shell waymarkers…

 

In this sense, Spain’s Santiago pilgrimage is seen as moving in a straight line and getting on with the future –  the devout walker wants to get-out-of-purgatory.

And the booktrail was especially happy to read that the author and his friend were actually on their very own book trail and not just for the book they would later write. As Tom lies injured, he finds out about the medical practices described in a certain book –

 

Tom’s been rereading Homage to Catalonia and he finds the archaism appealing, but the medic insists that it will only result in infection.

 

I wanted to linger on this route, but we were off to Japan next….

 

Shikoku, Japan

The temples of the trail in Japan
Just some of the temples of the trail in Japan

 

The second is to 88 temples around the perimeter of Japan – a circle of discovery if you will.

At the gate of one of the temples –

 

Beyond the gate there’s a little spring under a roof with long-handled tin ladles for ritual hand washing….and tied in ribbons are pieces of green paper. These are  fortunes…

 

The trip around 88 temples sees the author visiting a world that not many of us have or will have the pleasure of visiting. I wish we could have spent more time looking and appreciating them as I didn’t think the author did sometimes but there is the little gems that he tells us about such as the Japanese tale of an old beggar and Temple 12 – Shozanji was a particularly nice travel anecdote.

Once again his travelling companion is reading a book to help him experience even more of where he is – by reading on location so to speak –

 

Max reads a book about Japanese Buddhism…

 

This part of the trail was fascinating if not for the exotic environment the author found himself in and the sheer challenge of attempting to visit so much Japanese heritage. Quite a remarkable journey to do no doubt.

Sorry but we have to leave it there although there is so much to read and experience here for yourself.

Next on the trails – Ukraine!

The route in Ukraine
The route in Ukraine

 

Ukraine 

 

This is a journey done for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year, where he is accompanied by his father and brother. Uman sits on the Kiev Odessa route –

It was already clear, if only by the costumes, that the journey to Uman was much closer to the medieval side of the pilgrimage spectrum than the contemporary one.

It is a story about Jewish persecution and is not a story I knew much about. The Jews take this trip in order to celebrate Rosh Hashanah at the grave of Rav Nachman of Breslov, the founding of the Breslov Hasidic movement of the Jewish faith. The history of what happened in the Ukraine to the Jews is not one really covered here but a quick Google search will tell you the raw shocking facts.

It has been said to remind many a reader of Eat Pray Love but this one is more inward looking and sometimes to the detriment to the flow of his travels. Yet he takes us around three fascinating places, ever searching for his sense of direction.

It has definitely made me want to go to these places myself.

Book Advent – day 12

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Today’s visit takes me to a place that both captivates me and horrifies me in equal measure. A world that is so far repmoved from mine that I sometimes think that I will never fully understand it, but this novel took me right to the heart of it and I felt as if I had caught a glimpse of what it would feel like from a young girl’s point of view.

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Set in Kyoto in the 1920s

 

Memoirs of a Geisha paints a picture of a secret, beautiful world. But scratch off the paintwork and the world within is one of pain and suffering.

Geishas are beautiful ladies who seem to live a life of luxury, but appearances are very deceptive.

They cannot think for themselves – they are owned by the men they entertain.

Their freedoms are controlled and contained by the women who own the geisha homes

Based in the 1920’s in Kyoto, Japan, a young girl named Chiyo lives with her sister Satsu, in a poor town called Yoriodo along with her elderly parents. She is sold to a man who takes her to be an apprentice geisha in the city. The head geisha is jealous of her good looks and soon starts to make Chiyo’s life painful. All a geisha has to do now is to serve her master and to find a man who will not necessarily love her but to keep her and control her. But Chiyo falls in love…

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Memoirs is a window into a different world  – a world which you may not wish to enter and certainly not want to be part of, yet it is worth a visit for the fascinating fate of one geisha who is herself representative of many others.

There are evocative descriptions about places, ceremonies, kimonos and feelings which paint a picture however horrifying at times, you simply cannot take your eyes off. But that’s a good thing as to do so would be missing an amazing tour of the streets and atmosphere of Kyoto.

Book Advent – Day 4

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Day four of Book Advent and I am really keen to travel on a bit now and to find myself in  a new and distant land. So I rip off the brown paper off the parcel and take out a book I read a little while ago. I don’t know when I read it or where I travelled to via its pages. What I do know is that I’m off to somewhere from the comfort of my armchair. Book Advent is lots of fun….

I’m off to Tokyo!

Tokyo, 1912. The closed world of the ancient aristocracy is being breached for the first time by outsiders – rich provincial families, a new and powerful political and social elite.
Kiyoaki has been raised among the elegant Ayakura family – members of the waning aristocracy – but he is not one of them. Coming of age, he is caught up in the tensions between old and new, and his feelings for the exquisite, spirited Satoko, observed from the sidelines by his devoted friend Honda. When Satoko is engaged to a royal prince, Kiyoaki realises the magnitude of his passion.

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Yukio Mishima, I discovered before reading this novel,  was perhaps one of the most if not the most prolific Japanese writers of his time, and has written many plays and around 40 novels. And I had never heard of him. Right I thought, I’m off to Japan to experience his country and his writing. And I was not disappointed.

What I did discover had a air of sadness about it since Mishima committed seppuku, a brutal ritualistic suicide after a failed political coup at the age of 45.

Spring Snow is the first in his series of 4 books and tells the story of four successive reincarnations of a passionate man doomed to die young. This link with the author’s own tragic life and his works gave my reading an unexpected sense of sadness. He  died less than five years after this book was published – how could he have written such a book above love and feelings and then take his own life? Tragic in more ways than one. Although this book is set against the backdrop of Japanese history and its dying aristocracy, its emotions and themes are universal and equally captivating across cultural borders. Teenage boys in love might be something you find hard to read or out of your comfort zone yet this book is so beautifully translated and I imagine so beautifully written that it is worth a read for the journey via emotions through Japanese history.

Under the Sun – in Japan

A story about a captive and his captor against a background of war, cultural differences and an underlying sense of humanity.
A story about a captive and his captor against a background of war, cultural differences and an underlying sense of humanity.

Under the Sun is set in the closing stages of World War Two in the South Pacific. Flight Lieutenant Edward Strickland is a young RAF Spitfire pilot flying sorties over the Carolines and their outlying atolls. On a dawn patrol he is shot down attacking a submarine and ends up on a remote island occupied by a small Japanese garrison, that has remained undetected throughout the war. The garrison’s commander Captain Tadashi Hayama brutally interrogates his captive and a battle of wills develops between the two men. The scene is set for a contest where there will only be one victor. But events take an unexpected turn and the island becomes, for a while, a kind of Eden. The war is a distant memory that has no relevance to the rhythms and echoes of island life. Yet beyond its shores danger lurks and Japan’s capitulation after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leads to a climactic end that shatters the idyll forever.

 

 

Japan is a country that has long fascinated me and I still that one day I will get there. I was very pleased therefore to be given this book for a review and ‘the booktrail treatment.’

 

This was not only a book based in Japan but one which captivates the story of an extraordinary relationship between a captive and his captor – a Spitfire pilot and a Samurai commander.

 

This is an engaging tale – a meeting of two souls played out against an isolated island background during WW2. The war and the island are also characters in the novel however in the ways they highlight the plight and situation of the two men:

 

Strickland surveyed his surroundings and looking up, he saw the mountain rise above the green mantle of forest.  – page 79

 

Theirs is a relationship which goes through many stages – it may start off as a simple captor – captive one but is soon found to be one built on mutual mistrust leavened with soldierly respect, through companionship, to the eventual life-affirming understanding and friendship.

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The language of this book is quite lyrical in its descriptions of issues of war and the nature of war, of faith and the underlying human spirit. How the bud of humanity can flourish in the most inhospitable soil conditions:

 

Whether you are inside the punishment box or here on the island, you are still under my command.  I have simply decided to grant you your freedom. – page 65

 

Sometimes it is the language which gives the story its most powerful thread – the simple, lyrical and soft language is at odds with its subject matter.

 

The forest was quiet. Only the cicadas stirred occasionally in the stillness. their rhythmic music was like a narcotic and soon the pilot was asleep – page 77

 

The Japanese language plays a part too in the novel when Strickland realises he knows nothing of the language and culture of Japan yet knows about its weapons and its planes. Hayama even teaches him a little Japanese and jokes that he will be learning it in no time. Hayama also teaches him about their culture – how to pour Sake for example and in a little ceremony, in such a unique situation, it is quite surreal and poignant to see the importance of pride and culture in this situation.

It is not despite the subject matter,a story of war but rather a story of two very different men from very different backgrounds and cultures in one war time situation. It is an exploration of their minds and who and what they are and it is this I believe that the author most shines due to the research he must have done to achieve this.

There was one line in the book that sums up war, the spirit of man and the finality of death where man and his environment become one:

 

Man, for all his toil and struggle, was merely dust – page 56

 

We are all essentially the same –  thrown together in extreme circumstances. The power of what we do and who we are whilst on this earth is what ‘Under the Sun’ is all about and what it illustrates so well.