Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hiroshima, John Hersey

ImageThis was a mind blowing and confronting book to read. It was originally written to be published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1946, in the aftermath of Hiroshima. The book describes the events of the explosion of the Atomic Bomb on August 6th, 1946, through the lives and experiences of 6 individuals. The rawness of the explosion itself is muted by the linear factualness that Hersey uses to convey the enormity of the tragedy. This is then interwoven with the suffering of each individual and the incomprehensibility of what unfolds. All of this is magnificently conveyed through the ordinariness of Hersey’s characters, their every-day quality: “Mr Tanimoto is a small man, quick to talk, laugh and cry.”

The empathy that Hersey invokes is intense:

“As Mrs Nakamura stood watching her neighbour, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen. She did not notice what happened to the man next door; the reflect of a mother set her in motion toward her children. She had taken a single step (the house was 1,350 yards, or three-quarters of a mile, from the centre of  the explosion) when something picked her up and she seemed to fly into the next room over the raised sleeping platform, pursued by parts of her house.”

Before readers can discover the fate of Mrs Nakamura’s three children, we are thrust into the world of the next character, Dr Fujii who “saw the flash. To him – faced away from the centre and looking at his paper – it seemed a brilliant yellow. Startled, he began to rise to his feet. In that moment (he was 1,550 yards from the centre), the hospital leaned behind his rising and, with a terrible ripping noise, toppled into the river.” Each character’s experiences are described with same magnitude and emotion and readers are connected, in turn, to the lives of them all.

What makes this book so worth reading is not the account of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, nor the horrific medical impact that the radiation had on so many people, nor is it the pollution or the devastation and destruction that was wrought on Hiroshima and later on Nagasaki. Rather, what struck me so intensely, was that even in the midst of all this disaster there is space for humanity, for relationships, for love and for human interaction. It was this that made this book so a worthwhile read. There is no denying the tragedy of these events, but the dignity of the characters that we meet on the journey through this catastrophe is inspirational.

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What Makes a Good Reader?

I stumbled upon a great quote from Nabakov about the definition of a good reader. I thought it worth sharing:

Incidentally, I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting. However, let us not confuse the physical eye, that monstrous masterpiece of evolution, with the mind, an even more monstrous achievement. A book, no matter what it is—a work of fiction or a work of science (the boundary line between the two is not as clear as is generally believed)—a book of fiction appeals first of all to the mind. The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book.