In the High Peaks

Monday, July 30, 2012

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse--Literature and War Readalong 2012

I am extremely grateful to Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and her Literature and War Readalong for steering me toward Black Rain, an exquisite Japanese novel about the bombing of Hiroshima and the horrifying days and months that followed. Fortunately I was able to download it onto my Nook, because my entire library system (30+ libraries) did not have a single copy.

First off, I think I should say that for decades I have been intensely interested in the effect of war on civilians. My book Women during the Civil War (2004), included dozens of my essays dealing with the effect of the Civil War on women and children. I mention it because I have studied the effect of war on civilians in many, many wars. Yet I find it interesting to note that I have devoted the most extensive study to the effect of war on civilians during the Second World War. It has been a life study, actually, starting at about age 11, though I have never written about it. I should, because there is not an issue that I feel more strongly about.

As an American, my study of the effects of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Japanese civilians, who were predominantly women, children, and elderly men, as are all civilians in war, has been horrifying to me. What is even more horrifying are the extremes that our political leaders will resort to to achieve their wartime goals. 

I think the most horrific aspect of Black Rain is the details that relate to the immediate effects of the atomic blast on people and animals, as well as the long-term effects of radiation. I remember reading John Hersey's classic Hiroshima when I was twelve and in the seventh grade, a school assignment. I was rivetted by the account, about what my country had done to the Japanese people, but I wanted more graphic details, curiously enough. I could tell that Hersey was doing his best, but I knew he was holding back. So many Americans believed and still believe, I'm sorry to say, that the atomic bombings saved millions of American lives. My mother told me long, long ago that in August, 1945, like so many millions of American soldiers, my father had been shipped out to wait to board ships and planes for the invasion of Japan. He had his orders. But the bombings turned those orders to dust--or to ash, and the boats turned around to head home.

To me, because of my prior readings, Black Rain was not so much horrifying as it was exquisitely painful in its poignancy. How often I have read diaries and first-hand narrative accounts of civilians who have struggled on, who have overcome trauma, excruciating pain, and devastating injuries and yet have never lost sight of their humanity--to continue to take care of their loved ones, their neighbors, and their communities--even when they have no resources to draw upon. Shigematsu in Black Rain was such a person. I agree with Caroline about the poignancy of his observations of nature and his reactions to the effects of the bombing were fascinating and terribly sad.

This is the inevitable legacy of war. The fact is, there are always far more civilians who suffer than soldiers. And I have enormous sympathy for the latter as well, who, for the most part, have no choice about their futures.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reading A Little From Lots of Books

After Gone Girl, I've started S.J. Bolton's Dead Scared. Have you read any of her novels? I'm still in the beginning chapters, but I like the premise of the crime and the setting--Cambridge University. At least I can picture the action because I have visited the area twice in my life, once at age 19 and again at 32, on our honeymoon whirlwind tour of Ireland and Britain.

Do you at times feel overwhelmed by the volume of books being published all over the globe each season? I do, I do, I do! I feel it especially because I like to read nonfiction as well as fiction, and the buzz about the (supposedly) new acclaimed books amounts to a roar!

Last night I picked up Jane Fonda's memoir, which I bought at least six years ago. I wanted to read the chapter about the classic film On Golden Pond, in which she starred with Katherine Hepburn and her father, Henry Fonda. Jane produced the film, and did everything in her power to bring the cast together despite the heart disease assailing her father and the limitations of Hepburn. But what is most illuminating are her discussions about her relationship with her father and with Hepburn. Tom Hayden, the legendary radical activist, was her husband at the time, and he was ensconced in a "camp" nearby with legions of his colleagues, much to the disdain of Hepburn, and, I suppose, her father.

On Golden Pond is a movie I revisited while I was "down and out for the count" this year. Thank goodness for the television in my bedroom during that time. I was so moved by it this time, as I reminisced about the relationship of my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Will, twelve years' my parents' senior. This film was their story, and I'm so glad they were alive to see it and declared it "their film" for all of the younger members of the family.

But I also know, from seeing Jane Fonda interviewed about this film, that the daughter character she played was as close as can be to her real-life relationship with her father.  Distant, suffering from a lack of will on both sides to improve things, a long-standing stand-off, if you will. The movie broke some of the ice for them, but not all of it. I can't imagine how Henry managed to maintain such a stolid distance and silence about Jane's considerable theatrical accomplishments. But, like many men of his generation, he found it nearly impossible to express his feelings of love toward his family.

It was Henry Fonda's last film and won all kinds of awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, I believe.

Now I'm searching for biographies of Woody Guthrie, who is experiencing a vast revival at the moment (very popular among folkies in Edinburgh, by the way!), undoubtedly a result of the Occupy Movement and The 99 Percent vs. The Richest One Percent Movement. I'm hoping to pick up Joe Klein's, supposedly definitive 1980 Guthrie biography tomorrow, but I really want to read Ramblin' Man. It's just harder to get. And Joe Klein, the Newsweek journalist? No one will ever forget that he penned Primary Colors as "Anonymous." Yet, according to reviews over a long period of time, he did a thorough, scholarly-type bio of Guthrie. So I'll check it out.  More later!

Monday, July 2, 2012

What Do You Read When There's No Time to Read?

Yes, I'm going a bit batty. This summer I've had so little time to read. Recovering physical fitness has had to take a priority, as has getting my financial and actual house in order, but I'm happy to report that at least I'm regaining strength and agility sooner than I thought possible.

So the squeeze to read:
I've been suckered in by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I downloaded it onto the Nook. Unfortunately, these psychological thrillers have proved addictive lately.

Late this afternoon I've searched for a good interview with Flynn to post here. I'd settle for decent, but even that's been hard to find. How about not too bad?