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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Four Stories of The Atomic Aftermath

Noted added September 16, 2014.

To the many readers of this and related posts from U C L A, please let my 100,000 monthly readers know of your feelings on this story and the others in the collection.  I am assuming this book is being read in a class at U C L A and I am very glad to see that.  These stories are world class treasures. 

I have already posted on four stories from Crazy Iris and Other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath (edited and introduced by Kenzaburo Oe, 1985)-     Here are the final four stories in the collection.

"Human Ashes" (22 pages)  by Katsuzo Oda.   Katsuzo was exposed to the atomic blast at Hiroshima while working as a student recruit in a factory.   His story was first published in a journal published by the Japanese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in 1966.   He was never a professional writer.   "Human Ashes"  appears to be his only work in print in English.   Wikipedia has no article on him and all google searches lead back to this story.   "Human Ashes" tells of Katsuzo immediate reaction to the bomb.   He wanders through scenes of horrible destruction.   Katsuzo had just felt the first sexual urges that came with young age and he cannot help but notice many of the female victims have lost much of their clothes.   He begins to wander through the city.   Everywhere he sees the dead and the soon to be dead.   In one very sad moment of terror a black rain begins to fall.   The people of Hiroshima at once assume the Americans are dropping gasoline on them and are terrified as then expect to be set on fire. The rain is radioactive.  The Japanese had received constant reports on the horrible cruelty of the Americans.   We see the Bushido code begin to erode when a young officer (maybe 19 and only an officer in a youth corp) orders the young boy factory workers he was in charge of to line up at his instructions.   He is so shocked when his charges (mostly 13 to 15 years old) run from him.   Just yesterday they obeyed everything he said.   The primary heroes of the boys were kamikaze pilots.   Oe says Odo is the only writer included in the collection who did not go on after the war to become a professional writer.    "Human Ashes"  was written 21 years after the day of the bomb.   Oda was born in 1931, the year Japan invaded Manchuria.   I could not find any images of him nor could I find out if  he is still alive.   "Human Ashes" is a simple completely honest attempt by a thirty five year old man to describe how August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima felt to him.

"Fire Flies" by Yoko Ota (27 pages first published in 1953)  Yoko Ota was already a well known author prior to experiencing the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima.  Her writings focus closely on individual victims of the blast.   It is the first story in the collection that expresses extreme bitterness about the use of the bomb and in which its use is treated as an immoral decision, in the remarks of a doctor treating victims and by the narrator of the story.   I am not sure exactly when the U S Army began to stop censoring the publication of information that could be construed  as anti-American but I think it was around 1953 or so.   (It should be noted that the Japanese public were never informed in any way concerning the terrible actions of their own soldiers.)   The narrator goes to visit a friend she has not seen since August 6, 1945.   As she enters the modest house she notices a young girl disappear into a room.   It turns out she wants to put on her best clothes to meet the visitors.   She comes back into the room.

It was not a girl but a monstrosity.   Her deformed face and hands stood out even more grotesquely because she had put on her best clothes..her face was expressionless.  I broke down weeping  slumped on the wooden board, shuddering but unable to stop my tears.  I wished I could stand up, reach out to the monstrous body of the young woman and embrace it.   However, Japanese people, and I especially, are not accustomed to expressing emotion in this way.

The narrator begins to speak with the young girl.   We find when she goes out people sometimes think she is part of an exhibit.   She says people thing of her as a zoo animal allowed out and will sometimes slip twenty yen in her hand.   Her eyes have a permanent glow.   She cannot eat without spilling food as her mouth and lips were reshaped by the blast. 

"The House of Mirth" by Mitsuhara Inoue (1960, 25 pages) deals with the fate of female orphans, now grown to marriageable age, who lived in a rural orphanage near Nagasaki.   The girls have been there since 1945, most came at ages from infants to ten years.   A few of the girls have married and attempted to have children.   Many have miscarried and none has had a child live past four.   A suitor (in an arrangement made by relatives) is coming to meet  one of the girls.   Everyone wants to keep as a secret from the suitor the fact that the woman in question was at Nagasaki when the bomb went exploded.    Some villagers see the inability of the women to have healthy children as curse brought on my their adoption of Catholicism in place of their old religions.   The became Catholics because the catholic priests helped the orphaned bomb victims.   In this well told story we see the bond between the orphaned women and the shunned status of bomb victims  Discrimination against bomb victims was evidently worse in rural areas around Nagasaki than elsewhere.   Bomb survivors were almost like a class of untouchables.  (In a footnote Inoue describes for us the existence of an untouchable type cast of people in the rural areas.).    I could find almost no information on Inoue.  I could find no images.   Oe tells us he was active in the communist party after the war.   He was born in 1926.

"The Rite" by Hiroko Takenishi (31 pages) was first published in 1963.   Takenishi was born in Hiroshima but was not there on the day of the atomic bomb explosion.   She and a friend are their for the erection ceremony for a monument to Tamiki Hara.   I have already posted on "Summer Flowers, his story in the collection.  Takenishi established a reputation as a critic of modern literature with a profound knowledge of classical literature.   "The Rite" appears to be her only work in print in English.   This story is the most self consciously artistic of the stories in the collection.   It centers around rites of death and rites of mourning interleaved with accounts of the day the bomb dropped.    It is perhaps the most beautifully written of the stories.   I could find no images of her or really no information at all on her via google.

The stories in The Crazy Iris and other Stories of the Atomic Aftermath all are deeply moving.   When I began my blog July 7, 2009 I never thought I would do a series of posts like the ones I have attempted on the stories in this collection.   At first I thought no one will read them.   I have done google searchs on each of the writers.   A few are quite famous but some have little or no information on them  on the web and no pages dedicated to them.   Somehow it made me feel good when I began to see that people from all over the world were coming to my posts on these figures.   In several cases there is nothing else on the web (at least in English) on the writers in this collection.   I thank those who have read my posts on this topic and really hope others will read these stories and Mr Oe's deeply felt introduction to the collection.   It is also a way to read eight stories chosen by a master writer.


ds said...

Mel,I promise you. If I can find it, I WILL read this book, for you have made it crucial.Perhaps the more we understand about the aftereffects of such devastating events (never mind the acts themselves), the less we will be inclined to repeat those events. Thank you.

Suko said...

These sound like very important works.

Mel u said...

ds-I hope you can get copy of this books as I would very much like to read your reaction

Suko-I hope you get a change to read it

amalie abroad said...

Do you know the novel Black Rain (Kuro Ame?) by Masuji Ibuse?

Mel u said...

amalie abroad-I have not yet read Black Rain though I fo sure have it on my TBR list-thank you for visiting my blog