Hiroshima, by John Hersey

After finishing Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, I moved on to John Hersey’s more factual (and matter-of-fact) Hiroshima, which was published in the New Yorker a little more than a year after the bomb was dropped there.

Being matter of fact doesn’t keep this account of the days and weeks after the bombing from being devastating–it makes it more so. I want to say that this should be required reading, for everyone and especially for those prone to making blithe statements about necessity and the greater good, but I suspect that’s too simple and besides, I know well enough that I had to come to reading it in my own time.

Hiroshima left me at turns horrified, troubled, angry, and thoughtful. Twice I had to stop reading entirely, and the images from both those points in the book are haunting me still. I wanted to quote both of them, but doing so, without the full context, seems not right somehow, so I’ll quote this bit instead, which in its own way was just as powerful, and which also made me stop for a moment, if only because I had to reread it:

“Even though the wreckage had been described to her, and though she was still in pain, the sight horrified and amazed her, and there was something else that gave her the creeps. Over everything–up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among the tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks–was a blanket of fresh, vivid, optimistic green; the verdancy rose from even the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city’s bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of the plants intact; it had stimulated them. Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-fruited bean, purslane and clotbur and sasame and panic grass and feverfew. Especially in a circle at the center, sickle senna grew in extraordinary regeneration, not only standing among the charred remnants of the same plant but pushing up in new places, among bricks and through cracks in the asphalt. It actually seemed as if a load of sickle-senna seed had been dropped along with the bomb.”

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