Thursday, September 27, 2007
The above picture is reproduced from Keiji Nakazawa’s self-described “cartoon story of Hiroshima,” Barefoot Gen. I just recently finished the series and the work left such an impression on me that I simply must recommend these books to everyone I know.
Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen / はだしのゲン in Japanese) is a four-part series of graphic novels that tell the autobiographical story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as seen through the eyes of the author as a young boy.
Like Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Holocaust narrative Maus, Barefoot Gen is one of the few works in the comics medium that succeeds in honestly and humanely bearing witness to and depicting one of the signature horrors of our modern age.
To discuss the twists and turns of the plot would be a great disservice to potential readers. Suffice it to say, Barefoot Gen manages to run the gamut of emotions, often legitimately evoking laughter or tears depending on the section.
Despite the unimaginable horrors depicted in the frames on the page, the underlying message of Barefoot Gen is one of hope, peace, and optimism. However, through his prose, Nakazawa openly and honestly criticizes both the Japanese and American wartime administrations for their shared responsibility in the bombings.
Nakazawa, who has dedicated his adult life to passing on the story of A-Bomb survivors to subsequent generations, continues to write literature and movie screenplays about Hiroshima to this day. As written in an essay that follows the work, his hope is that Barefoot Gen will in some small way lead to the complete abolition of nuclear weapons in this new century.
Four separate volumes make up the complete story of Barefoot Gen. While the volumes may be a quick read, the images and characters will remain etched into your mind long after finishing. An excellent new English translation was completed just a few years ago in San Francisco. The series is readily available on Amazon.com. Also, check your local library (mine had all four volumes in circulation).
It is my personal belief that not nearly enough is done to teach and discuss the personal and global / historical ramifications of the atomic bombings of Japan in the American education system (or in America in general). As is the case with the Nazi Holocaust, there will come a time in the very near future when no living survivors of the atomic bombings remain. It is my opinion that we must keep the testimonies and experiences of survivors alive for generations to come. Barefoot Gen provides both an easily accessible and surprisingly effective entry point through which to learn more and enter into a discussion about this very important event.
Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is completely recommended. Please read this series! If I had my way, it would already be standard reading in every 9th grade U.S. history class across America.