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Barefoot Gen: - A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima Paperback – January, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
The reissue of this classic manga's first volume has impeccable timing. It recounts the bombing of Hiroshima from the perspective of a young boy, Gen, and his family. But the book's themes (the physical and psychological damage ordinary people suffer from war's realities) ring chillingly true today. Gen and his family have long been struggling without much food, money or medicine, but despite hardships, they try to maintain a semblance of normal life. The adults are exhausted and near despair; the children take air raids and starvation more or less in stride. Nakazawa, a Hiroshima survivor, effectively portrays the strain of living in this environment and shows how efforts to stay upbeat in dire circumstances sometimes manifest as manic, irrational humor. The story offers some optimism: characters perform acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of neighbors and loved ones (e.g., when Gen's pregnant mother becomes ill from malnutrition, he and his brother pose as orphans and perform in the streets, throwing the money over the walls of their home so they won't get caught). Underneath this can-do attitude are the parents' deep guilt and sense of helplessness. When the children clamor ecstatically over a scrap of food, the parents dissolve in shame and grief. The art is sharply drawn and expressive, and the narrative has such a natural rhythm, it's easy to get pulled into the family's life, making the cataclysm readers know awaits them all the more real, intimate and difficult to take. Despite its harrowing nature, this work is invaluable for the lessons it offers in history, humanity and compassion.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Japanese --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Volume one tells the story of the Nakazawa's in Hiroshima from April of 1945 until a few hours after the bomb dropped on August 6, 1945. Volume two covers the first few days after the bombing - it's terrible. People's skin and faces are melting, corpses bellies burst open with gas, the city reeks terrible and very few people want to help each other (which adds to the misery).Book 3 addresses the next several days after that. Gen and his stand-in brother Ryuta spend much of this volume searching for food and caring for a man that has "A-Bomb disease" and is being alternately ignored or abused by his own family. Near the end of this third book, the Emperor announces his surrender on August 15, 1945. It is broadcast over the radio and the kids watch as the adults are either saddened or angered.
Volume 4 deals with a number of issues surrounding the American occupation of Japan, as well as the rise in the black market and the early formation of the modern gangs. American soldiers give candy to the kids (the result of this was that a generation of children that survived the bomb grew up with fond feelings towards Americans - this is not the author's position, but it is something I know from both history books and having taught in Tokyo for all of 2003). There is a story of a young Japanese woman who dates a variety of American soldiers in order to get food, money and other goods. This embarrasses her young sister, and other women in town call her a whore. More people continue to die from "A bomb disease" and the variety of cancers it cause. Gen and his siblings suffer from malnutrition, and we get our first appearance at the high cost of protein and milk in the black market. At this market, we are introduced to a variety of gangsters who are getting rich off their countrymen's sorrows.
It is a wonderfully told story. As someone who majored in history, taught it and has served in the US Army on two different times in my life, I think that using the bomb over Hiroshima saved about a million American lives and perhaps even more Japanese lives. I say this to demonstrate that someone who believed in the August 6 and 9th bombings can still find this to be fascinating and tragic. It's a great comic.
The book opens with the orphans devising a plan to get the book published. When all the regular publishers have turned them down because they fear reprisal from the Americans, Ryuta, one of the orphans, suggests asking the prison print shop to print the books. All they need to do is find the money to buy the paper for the printing. Finding the money is a challenge that they solve. Once they have the book published and are distributing it, they are picked up by the local police and taken to a U.S. military base for interrogation.
Meanwhile Gen's mother continues to decline from her bomb-induced radiation sickness, and Gen's older brother Koji, now a depressed alcoholic, returns from the mines. The last section of the book reunites the family as the boys try to make Gen's mother happy in her last days. The subtitle Bones Into Dust refers to the cremation remains of Gen's mother as the family deals with yet another loss.