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Hiroshima Notes Hardcover – July 1, 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Japanese novelist Oe, who won a Nobel Prize in 1994, wrote these searching essays between 1963 and 1965, when he made frequent visits to the rebuilt city of Hiroshima and interviewed survivors. The collection, now reissued on the 50th anniversary of the bombing, examines the moral and political implications of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Oe explores how A-bomb survivors maintained their dignity despite shattered health resulting from radiation exposure. He writes about the courage of Hiroshima's doctors and nurses who engaged in emergency efforts despite their own afflictions. He also reports on the Japanese movement to ban nuclear weapons, and divulges that medical authorities in Japan suppressed or withheld evidence of the link between radiation exposure and leukemia. The impact of this grim report is enhanced by its calm restraint and the spare, evocative line drawings.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Japanese

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd; First Edition edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714530077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714530079
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,000,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Hiroshima Notes is a collection of seven essays written between August 1963 and January 1965 on the occasion of several visits by Mr. Oe to Hiroshima. The year 1963 was a watershed for Kenzaburo Oe. In 1963, his son was born with a lesion of the skull through which brain tissue protruded. Unable to decide if he should allow the child to die or agree to an operation which would leave his son permanently brain-damaged, Mr. Oe went on a reporting assignment to Hiroshima that resulted in "a decisive turnabout" of his life which, he says, "eschewing all religious connotations, I would still call a conversion".
The central figure of the essays is Dr. Fumio Shigeta, a medical doctor who was in Hiroshima on the day the A-bomb was dropped. He happened to arrive in the city to take up a new post just a week before the day of the bombing. It is through Dr. Shigeta that Oe learns how the bomb victims become social outcasts, have difficulties finding marital partners, get divorced because they cannot have children, hide in shame in the back-rooms of their houses for years, and commit suicide or go insane upon learning that they are diagnosed as having "an A-bomb disease". In the midst of this pain and suffering, Dr. Shigeta patiently applies his medical skills to help the victims. He ignores the stigma placed on the victims by Japanese society, and for him there is no taboo on issues like the genetic effects of the radiation.
Dr. Shigeta is the "authentic man" for Oe, a person who is "humanist in the truest sense ¡V neither too wildly desperate nor too vainly hopeful". A man of modesty, patience and perseverance, Dr.
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Format: Paperback
The other long reviews do a decent job summarizing. But what's missed is Oe's moral stance--he isn't interested in "victimhood Olympics", whether the bombs were worse or as bad as Auschwitz; he's not even really interested in why they were dropped or if the decision made political and military sense from an American perspective, or even if the bombs might have shortened the war. He simply doesn't care about that sort of calculation and he's arguing that neither should you. Nobody despises Japanese militarism and colonialism more than Oe, so he's no apologist for the Japanese military or political leaders. Which is of course his point. His moralism is like Ghandi's: seemingly simple, but really only uncompromising. The book is about how ordinary people dealt with the consequences of the bombing. They are who matters to him and they will always be precisely who doesn't matter to political or military disucssions or to the victimhood Olympics. This book only looks simplistic or one-sided if you try to read it from those perspectives, which are Oe's target. I suppose the book is also an implicit essay on how hard it is to get people past their rationalizations. I mean, this book is as direct as it gets, but most readers, Japanese and otherwise, still refuse to see the point.
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The book "Hiroshima Notes" is a collection of essays, journalistic in conception and in style, written by Oe Kenzaburo in the mid-1960s after his first visit to Hiroshima to report on an international conference there. Each essay might stand alone as a piece of impressionistic reflection; together they are somewhat repetitive and sprawling. Many of the concerns and most of the events are 'water under the bridge' by now, whatever the resolution has been, but the intensity of Oe-san's involvement with the mentality of Hiroshima and the Hiroshima survivors still has the power to compel an English reader to think and feel.

Don't look for Oe's characteristically bizarre, visceral prose style in these essays. At least in translation, they are written simply and declaratively, with extended passages of quotation from writings and interviews of the Hiroshima survivors themselves. Still, Oe's perceptions are complex and multi-faceted, not always consistent, and not always palatable to an "outside person" - a "gai jin" - particularly to an American who may be ready to defend the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the two previous reviewers here on the River expresses that patriotic dudgeon quite vehemently. Oe - let's be honest! - regards the bombing as a crime against humanity comparable to the German genocide camps. [Please don't lambaste me in comments; I'm merely reporting, not advocating.]

In the preface to the first republication of Hiroshima Notes as a book, Oe wrote: "The realities of Hiroshima can be forgotten only by those who dare to be deaf, dumb, and blind to them." Read that sentence several times! It's not as straightforward as it seems. Why "dare"?
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