Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Last Train From Hiroshima



The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back* is a recently published historical nonfiction book written by Dr. Charles Pellegrino. I do not often post book or film reviews on the blog, and frankly, I do not wish to start now. I am no critic. Occasionally however, a book touches me in such a profound way that I feel a deep and urgent need to recommend it to others. In this case, the hope is that Last Train's message of peace and love spreads forth like an infection across the globe.

The take-home point from this post? As a "planetary citizen," please read this book!

I borrow the term "planetary citizen" from Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a double survivor of ground-zero at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He coined this term during his address at the United Nations as a means to underscore our collective humanity.

For me, this book was the most extensive and affecting written account of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I have experienced. While often unknown and unread outside of Japanese studies, there in fact exists a canon of "A-Bomb Literature." Classics in the genre include such books as, Black Rain (Masuji Ibuse), the comic series Barefoot Gen (Keiji Nakazawa), and the journalistic account Hiroshima (John Hersey), to name a few. Dr. Pellegrino's book can now rightfully be added to the list.

Here is truly an author who knows. Having spent the better part of three decades researching and forging real-life friendships with survivors; the result is an intensely personal and human account of those men, women, and children (American and Japanese alike) whose lives were forever changed by the bomb.

While the book delves into intense forensic detail when discussing the science behind the bombs, the survivors' voices are what propel the narrative with great efficacy. I do not intend to demean the severity of the subject matter in the slightest when I say that Last Train reads like a natural thriller. Perhaps this is why director James Cameron (a personal friend of Dr. Pellegrino) has considered adapting the work into a feature film.

Each reader is likely to come away from this book with a different image or story etched into their memory: The husband carrying a bowl of his newly-wedded wife's bones back to her parent's house - the terminally ill doctor who, upon surviving the Nagasaki blast underwent a spiritual conversion and became a staunch advocate for peace - the young girl dying from atomic bomb disease, who put "all of herself" [her soul] into folding thousands of microscopic origami cranes.

Make no mistake, this is an incredibly difficult book to read. The pages are filled with heartbreak, intense tragedy, and images of such gruesomeness, that they will haunt your dreams. This is how it should be. The sheer act of reading and bearing witness to the horrors of nuclear warfare does our future world a favor.

At the same time, it must also be said that the pages are unequivocally filled with messages of love, hope, and optimism. Having personally visited ground zero in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, what I was left with, aside from an intense sadness, was the feeling that the stories of survivors must live on for generations to come, if there is any hope of preventing a future Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

As the very real day approaches when there will be no more living survivors of the atomic bombings, we owe it to ourselves as humans to keep these stories alive. Outside of visiting the memorials in Japan, reading and recommending Dr. Pellegrino's book is the next best way to make sure these voices are heard by all planetary citizens.

Pellegrino, Charles. The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2010.

B.E.W.

*UPDATE - There has been brewing controversy surrounding this book in recent weeks, with both the NY Times and the Today Show discrediting certain American military witnesses included in the book. In fact, "Doctor" Pellegrino's own educational history and credentials have been brought into question as well. The result of this hullabaloo is that the publisher has decided to cease printing, shipping, and marketing the book. The proposed James Cameron film adaptation will also likely never leave the station. So, if you are interested in reading this book (or in search of that perfect literary collectible), better snag a copy FAST!

1 comment:

Kiki-licious said...

The stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's survivors need to be told so people today can more clearly understand the horror of nuclear weapons, and it's very disappointing to find that a supposed treasure such as this book is actually enough of a sham to have its publishers yank it from shelves. My grandfather, now in his 90s, was captured by the Japanese while serving in the Dutch military in Indonesia and was in a PoW camp digging tunnels underground in Nagasaki when the bomb dropped. His retelling of it is terrifying, but my family has made sure to record it in audio format because we know that that generation of survivors is leaving us soon.