Last week, The New Yorker made available online the John Hersey Hiroshima article he wrote for the one-year anniversary of the August 6, 1945 atomic blast on Hiroshima.
I may have read it years ago, but I don’t recall having done so. And I can’t imagine forgetting what he wrote. Having just been in Hiroshima last month, I was drawn to the re-release of Hiroshima and read its 31,000 words in one sitting.
It’s a masterpiece.
Hersey focuses on six ‘survivors’ of the atomic blast:
Miss Toshinki Sasaki, a personnel clerk at the department of the East Asia Tin Works;
Dr. Masakazu Fuji, a physician at a private hospital;
Mrs. Masakazu Nakamura, a widow;
Father Wilhem Kleinsorge, a German priest;
Dr. Terufumi Saski, a surgeon (no relation to Miss Toshink Sasaki); and,
The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church.
While more than 100,000 people died in the blast and much of Hiroshima was obliterated, Hersey chose to do what had not been done in most of the accounts of the bombing: he told the story of six people who escaped death. While you also learn about the destruction of the city and how many of its citizens died, there is no attempt on the author’s part to discuss the moral, ethical, or political/strategic issues. Hershey simply provides the reader insight into an aspect of the bombing that had not been previously told.
Hersey, who at the time was a war correspondent (he had yet to write his Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Bell for Adano), wrote these profiles without resorting to emotion or to sensation. In vivid detail, he chronicles what happened to six inhabitants of Hiroshima both that day and over the succeeding year. What Hersey thought is not part of Hiroshima.
In choosing to let the ‘survivors’ tell their story and in transcribing what happened to each of them, Hersey has given us what has to be the clearest and most unforgettable description ever written of life after a nuclear blast.
The New Yorker article, which took up virtually the entire August 31,1946 issue of the magazine, was soon turned into a book and has been in print continuously ever since.
In addition, Hersey returned to Hiroshima 40 years later and found all six of the individuals he had written about in 1946. He tells their continued stories in an article also printed in The New Yorker (published July 15, 1985). That Aftermath article has not been made available online, but you can read it as an added chapter (Chapter V) in the Vintage edition of Hiroshima. However, know that Hersey here departs from just letting the six individuals tell their story. He injects himself and ‘a point of view’ to what had previously been simply a direct, vivid account of the after-effects of the destruction of Hiroshima.
If you haven’t read the original article, you have missed a powerful and haunting account of the results of what happened for those who ‘survived’ the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.