Friday, November 14, 2008

Asian Pacific American Lit.: Hiroshima

Yep, Laurance. 1995. Hiroshima: A Novella. NY: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN: 0590208322.

Through a combination of facts and composite characters, Yep presents the descriptive story of the Hiroshima atomic bombing during World War II from the point of view of the Japanese culture.

In Hiroshima: A Novella, Laurence Yep presents a powerful telling of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city during World War II. The story’s text is written in short, crisp sections from the point of view of a Japanese girl named Sachi as well as of Colonel Tibbets the pilot of the U.S. bomber Enola Gay that carried the bomb. The narrative is also full of actual facts of the atomic bomb (e.g. how it works), what life was like in Hiroshima prior to the bombing, and what happened afterwards (from the day of the bombing to years later). There are certain parts of the books that have great power in the details that are provided, for example:

“The bomb goes off 580 meters above the ground. The temperature reaches several million degrees Celsius immediately. It is so hot that the hospital below and everyone inside it disappears.

“Two hundred yards away, people vanish. However, in that instant, their outlines are burnt into the cement like shadows” (p. 22-23).

“People jump into it [a river] to get away from the fire. In the panic, some people are crushed. Others drown. Sachi cannot swim. She jumps in anyway… Soon the river is full of bodies" (p. 26-27).


“Flowers bloom again. Some are beautiful as ever. However, the radiation makes other flowers grow in strange, weird shapes” (p. 31).

Though, with the combination of how the narrative is divided into brief sections and the how many facts the text does not flow at times and read more like a beginning draft of a novel. However, it is because of this short of writing, there is starkness to the story that creates more resonance in the meaning that Yep intended to have. Plus, by having a character such as Sachi, there is another personal level for the readers to connect with within the context of the story.

Because this the story is set in the perspective of the Japanese people, there is a wonderful amount of cultural markers. Sachi and her older sister Riko visit the shrine to say a prayer for their father who is away with the army. When the air-raid sirens sound, the sisters put on their air-raid hoods that is to protect them from burning sparks from fires set by bombs. The sisters and other children their age are also take part in helping defending Japan from the Americans. Sachi is part of the labor service corps that demolishes houses so that any fires would not spread. Riko records phone messages at the army headquarters, which use to be done the soldiers who are now fighting the Americans.

Other cultural markers include the description of many of the wood and paper houses, the description of what the city after is grew back and the description of the twenty-five Hiroshima Maidens who were brought to the U.S. for surgeries to fix their burns and scares that they received from the bombings. There is also a description of a cultural legend when Yep relates the story of a young girl named Sadako, who was sick and died of the radiation ten years after the bombing, learned of the legend that “if she folded one thousand paper cranes, she would get her wish” (p. 46). However, she died despite folding one thousand paper cranes, and now there is a Paper Crane Club that folds paper cranes to honor and remember her and other victims from the bombing.

At the end of the story, Yep provides an Afterwards that explains that the character Sachi is a composite of many children that had survived the bombing and explained how difficult it was to apply the facts due to the fact that many sources may have different information. Finally, at the end Yep also provides the bibliography of the sources that he used for the book.

Because the story is set from within the city of Hiroshima and the Japanese people, Hiroshima: A Novella as a powerful story that can open the eyes of the readers as it is a story that they would be familiar with though through the U.S. perspective. This would a good book to include in a discussion or lesson on World War II and Japan.

*STARRED REVIEW* Gr. 4-7. In quiet, simple prose, Yep tells what happens when the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. He tells it in short chapters in the present tense, switching from crewmen on the Enola Gay to children in a Hiroshima classroom; then he describes the attack, the mushroom cloud, and the destruction of the city; finally, he talks about the aftermath, immediate and long term, including the arms race and the movement for peace. One chapter explains the physics of the explosion and of radiation. The facts are so dramatic and told with such controlled intensity that we barely need the spare fictionalization about a young Hiroshima child who is there when the bomb falls and who later comes to the U.S. for treatment (Yep says in an afterword that she's a composite of several children). The account is fair, nonhectoring, and totally devastating. Though accessible to middle-grade readers, this will also interest older readers, who will find nothing condescending in content or format. Fifty years later, the event is still the focus of furious controversy (even the numbers are in dispute), and this novella will start classroom discussion across the curriculum. There's a bibliography for further reading. ((Reviewed Mar. 15, 1995)) -- Hazel Rochman. Booklist, published by the American Library Association.

Gr 4-6?Through a stacatto, present-tense narration that moves back and forth between the experiences of a 12-year-old girl and the men on the Enola Gay, Yep's novella tells the events of the day the first atomic bomb was dropped and its aftermath. Sachi survives but is badly burned; her sister dies and her soldier father is killed in action. For three years the girl spends most of her time indoors, as newcomers to the city fear the scarred survivors. Then she travels to America for plastic surgery, which enables her to take part in her society again. She returns to Japan, hoping to help other victims. Yep ends with two chapters on the destructive potential of nuclear warfare and on some of the efforts being made toward disarmament. His words are powerful and compelling, and the facts he presents make readers realize the horrors of that day and its impact beyond. As a fictional character, Sachi never becomes much more than a name, but even so, readers will be moved by her tale. Hiroshima has a more adult format than Junko Morimoto's more personal My Hiroshima (Viking, 1990) or Toshi Maruki's Hiroshima No Pika (Lothrop, 1982), both of which tell the story in pictures as well as in words.?Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ

*Read books about one the known victims of the bombing, Sadako: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr and illus. by Ronald Himler.
*Read other books by Laurence Yep: The Ghost Fox, Dragon’s Gate and Dragonwings.

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