Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Summer Flower" by Tamiki Hara

"Summer Flower" by Tamiki Hara is the second story included in The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath (edited and introduced by Kenzaburo Oe).
I have already talked a bit about why I was so happy to acquire The Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic  Aftermath in my post on the lead story, "The Crazy Iris". 

Tamiki Hora was in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was exploded at Hiroshima August 6, 1945.
He survived because he was far enough away from ground zero in the bathroom of a very well constructed house built by his father.  "Summer Flowers" is an account of that day and the days right after the blast.

A lot of us have probably seen movies about apocalyptic seeming events.   Many book bloggers have enjoyed books about life after and during times in which all seems destroyed.   "Summer Flowers" is an eye witness account.  

The  story is set in Hiroshima in August  of 1945.   August 3 was the one year anniversary of the death of the narrator's wife.   He wanted to put some incense sticks on her grave but somehow he feared the whole city would soon be destroyed soon in bombing raids.  

After burning the incense sticks that I had brought I made a bow, I drank out of the well beside the grave..It was on third day after my visit to the grave that the bomb was dropped...My life was saved because I was in the bathroom.

When the bomb explodes he is knocked to the ground by the blast (we do not know how far away he narrator was from ground zero).   At first he loses his sight due to the fall.   His sister finds him and tells him his eyes are bleeding.   He and his family begin to see their first survivors.

Someone rushed in with a bewildered gesture.   His face was smeared in blood. .. K of the factory office appeared on the veranda of the drawing room.   Seeing me, he cried in a sad voice. "I'm hurt! Help me" and dropped down in a heap where he stood.   Blood was oozing from his forehead, and his eyes were glistening with tears.

Here is the first corpse he sees

Even as I looked something infectious seemed to emanate from her lifeless face.    It was the first such face I had seen.   But  I was to see many, many more that were more grotesque.

At first people did not realize what had happened that day.   People felt they they had just had bad luck in a normal bombing raid.   Slowly they began to realize a weapon of a new order of magnitude had been used that day by the Americans.

Everyone had at first thought that just his own house had been hit by a bomb.   But then they went outside and saw it was the same everywhere, they were dumbfounded.   They were also greatly puzzled by the fact that, although the houses and other buildings had all been damaged or destroyed, there didn't seem to be any holes where the bombs had fallen...It was all like some kind of magical trick, my sister said, trembling with terror.

The narrator begins to walk the necropolis where he was born, where his beloved wife is buried.  He observes a common effect of the blast.   Those closer to the blast than him but  enough far away not to die instantly have swollen heads and deformed faces    People with this mark of death upon them have only a few days to suffer.   He comes upon a dispensary set up near a temple to help victims.   The screaming are everywhere but the doctors have no idea how to really help them.   The legs and arms of the victims begin to swell up.

A few yards away from us, two schoolgirls lay groaning for water under a cherry tree, faces burned black...a woman whose face was smoked dried joined them...she stretched out her legs listlessly, oblivious to the dying girls.

The narrator's older brother got a wagon and was rounding up the extended family to leave town.   On the way to pick up a sister they come on the dead body of the brother's son.  

Here is a beautiful passage (I know it may seem jarring to some to find beauty in these descriptions but it is there) describing the narrator's reactions as they leave Hiroshima

Amid the vast silvery expanse of nothingness that lay under the glaring sun, there were the roads, the river, the bridges, and the stark naked, swollen bodies.   The limbs of the corpses, which seem to have become rigid after struggling in their last agony, had a kind of haunting rhythm.  In the scattered electric wires and countless wrecks there was embodied a spasmodic design in nothingness.   The burnt and toppled streetcar and the horse with its huge belly on the ground gave one an impression of a world described by a Dali surrealist painting.

People continue to die long after the blast from its effects.   There is a heart breaking rendition  of the efforts of the narrator to help his good friend find his wife or her body.  

"Summer Flower" is as sad a story as I have ever read.    The beauty of the fashion in which the story is told somehow seems almost wrong.   Tamiki Hara is described  by Oe as the most  outstanding of the writers who survived the bomb blast.      Tamiki felt compelled to wrte about his experience  of the bomb blast as a kind of memorial to his wife.   There was censorship for several years of any writing by Japanese about the war (managed by the occupying forces and their Japanese employees) and his first writings were published in deviance of law.   He studied English literature in college and had a life time fondness for the great 19th century Russians.   "Summer Flowers" was first published in 1947.    In 1951, in protest and horror at the start of the Korean War, he threw himself into the path of a train.     Sadly it appears that "Summer Flowers"  and one other story by Hara are the only part of his work in print in English. Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath is worth obtaining just for these two stories.

Mel u


Suko said...

This really does sound like the saddest of stories--I don't know if I could read it. The descriptions of those suffering, dying, and dead might be too much for me, even if the language is beautiful.

ds said...

I agree with Suko.

Anna said...

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric