“Hiroshima” is a novel published 1946 and written by the American author John Hersey. The novel was collected from an article originally run by the magazine The New Yorker in August of 1946. Initially, the magazine intended to run the full article over several issues but ended up dedicating on issue to it entirely.
Only two months later the article was adapted into a book by Alfred A. Knopf and printed. It has sold over three million copies to date. The book brought the horrors of the explosion of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima to the American public consciousness for the first time and it is credited with creating a new wave of Science Fiction storytelling which centers around an ‘everyman’ character.
“Hiroshima’ tells the story of six normal citizens of the Japanese city on the morning of August 6th 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped. John Hersey was one of the first Western journalists to survey the damage of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. He was commissioned by The New Yorker to write a series of articles about the effects of the explosion on several normal citizens. Through the book, Hersey tells these true stories in vivid and often grotesque detail.
The beginning of the novel introduces the six narrative characters and describes what they were doing on the morning of the explosion, August 6th, 1945. Hiroshima has, up until this point, been spared the American raids that have plagued many other cities in Japan and there are some rumors that the city may be being saved for “something special”.
The first character introduced is Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto. Mr. Tanimoto is a Reverend who was educated in America. In order to prove his loyalty to Japan after being away for so long, Mr. Tanimoto has volunteered to organize air-raid defenses. On the morning of the blast, he is helping a friend’s daughter move her belongings to a new home outside the city center. He is two miles from the center of the blast. The bomb levels the house and Mr. Tanimoto must take cover in a garden.
The second character to be introduced is Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura. Mrs. Nakamura is a widow with three children. Every time the air raid warning goes off, Mrs. Nakamura must move her small children to a safe area. However, no blasts have happened in Hiroshima yet and Mrs. Nakamura is considering whether it is worth it to wake her children and move them. That morning, the air raid siren goes off again and after talking with her neighbor, Mrs. Nakamura decides to ignore it until she hears a more concrete warning. The blast strikes about three-quarters of a mile from her home and Mrs. Nakamura’s neighbor is killed instantly.
The third character is Dr. Masakazu Fujii who runs a private hospital that overlooks the river. Dr. Fujii has recently had to turn away many patients as he is incapable of moving them to a safe zone every time the air raid siren goes off. In the clinic he currently has only two patients. The morning of the blast, Dr. Fujii wakes early to go with a friend to the train station and has extra time in the morning to read the paper on his porch as a result. When the bomb falls the blast strikes the clinic and overturns it into the river along with Dr. Fujii himself.
The forth character is Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a Jesuit priest from Germany who is stationed at a mission in Hiroshima. As the Father has been recently ill, he is resting in his room when the bomb strikes. The mission house has been built to withstand earthquakes and does not topple over. Because of this Father Kleinsorge and his comrades survive.
The fifth character is Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young surgeon at the Red Cross Hospital. The morning of the blast, Dr. Sasaki finds himself unable to sleep and takes an earlier train than usual to work. Because of the timing and location of the blast, if Dr. Sasaki has taken his normal train he would have died in the explosion. When the bomb hits, he is standing in front of an open window and thus, remains unscathed. Dr. Sasaki immediately begins addressing the wounds of the people around him.
The sixth and last character is Miss Toshiko Sasaki a twenty-year-old clerk at the East Asia Tin Works. Miss Sasaki works to support her brother and parents. She is in her office sitting in front of a bookcase when the bomb hits and bookcase falls on top of her, crushing her leg and knocking her out.
In chapter two, we are taken back to Mr. Tanimoto who initially believes that the blast was smaller than he thought and the damage is only limited to the area surrounding him. However, when he climbs over the wreckage to get a better view, he discovers that this assumption is incorrect. Mr. Tanimoto becomes immediately concerned for his wife and baby daughter and begins running toward the center of the city in search of them. Many badly burned and injured people pass him on their way away from the center of the blast. Mr. Tanimoto is uninjured and feels ashamed and guilty for this. He asks the people he passes for forgiveness. As he runs, he hears the cries of people trapped under rubble and toppled buildings. Amazingly, Mr. Tanimoto manages to find his wife and daughter and both are unhurt.
Mrs. Nakamura, meanwhile, quickly begins digging through the rubble of her home to find her children. She finds them unhurt also and a neighbor suggests that the travel to Asano park, an evacuation area on the edge of town that used to be an estate. Mrs. Nakamura decides to do this but first puts her only means of livelihood, her sewing machine, into the homes water tank so that it will not be safe from any looters.
At the mission house, one of the priests, Father Schiffer is badly injured and needs to be taken to a hospital. Some of the other priests attempt to find a doctor and dig people out from nearby houses that have been demolished. While they do this, Father Kleinsorge goes to his room to collect some of his things. He is gratified to find that his suitcase, which contains important papers and all of his money, is untouched by the blast. Father Kleinsorge thanks God for this development. The other priests are unable to get medical help for Father Schiffer and decide to head to Asano Park. However, the secretary of the diocese, Mr. Fukai, is reluctant to leave the mission house and Father Kleinsorge must drag the man from the house forcefully. Father Kleinsorge, still weak from his illness, accidentally loses his hold on Mr. Fukai and the man runs back into the blast zone and is never seen again.
Dr. Fujii is hurt by the blast and his clinic collapses, killing everyone else inside including his two patients. He and others take refuge in the river as the fires started by the blast begin to spread. Dr. Sasaki is one of a handful of doctors in the city who is unhurt and is forced to begin working on upwards of 10,000 people who start piling into the hospital to receive care. Dr. Sasaki works tirelessly to help as many people as he can wondering what type of weapon could have caused such ceaseless destruction.
At the tin works factory, Miss Sasaki is badly injured. She remains pinned under the bookcase for a long time and goes in and out of consciousness. At some point she is rescued and put in a makeshift shelter with two other injured people.
Asano Park serves as a safe haven for many of the displaced citizens of Hiroshima, as it manages to survive the explosion mostly intact. However, the estate soon becomes overcrowded and the fires in the city begin to threaten it. Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge lead a group of volunteers to put out the fire using clothing and buckets of water. Asano Park is located next to a river and on the first day after the explosion many of the stranded survivors attempt to drink the rivers water only to discover that it is unclean and then become sick. That evening, a ship from the navy travels up the river and instructs the survivors to be patient and wait for help. The people of Asano Park are buoyed by this as it is the first word of any outside help.
Father Kleinsorge becomes so ill he almost cannot move but he still manages to find some working faucets and supply the people of the park with clean water. While walking through the woods he comes upon a group of soldiers who are so terribly injured that their eyes are melted and their mouths are swollen. He assures them that help is coming although he doubts that it will be there in time to save them. He also comforts a pair of young siblings who can only assume that their mother is dead.
Six priests from the Novitiate arrive with stretchers for Father Schiffer and Father LaSalle. They bring Mrs. Nakamura and her children back with them to the Novitiate. Kleinsorge travels back into the city to file a claim with the police. In a radio broadcast that no one in the park hears, the government announces that they believe a new type of bomb was used on the city.
Mr. Tanimoto manages to find a small canoe and begins paddling along the river. He helps to rescue a few injured people on the river bank including two young girls who are badly burned and twenty men and women who are lying on a sandpit and are unable to move. Some of these men and women are so severely burned that their skin begins to slide off when he moves them. However, after he takes a short nap he returns to discover that he did not move the people far enough away from the water and many of them have been carried off by the rising tide anyway.
Mr. Tanimoto is so upset by this that he travels to a medical station in another safe area called East Parade Ground to reproach a doctor for not helping those who are injured in Asano Park. The doctor, who is already overwhelmed, tells him that he is mainly helping the people with less serious wounds because the severely wounded will die anyway. In the Red Cross Hospital, Dr. Sasaki works for nineteen straight hours tending to the wounded. As there is no one to take away the dead bodies, they pile up around him. After nineteen hours he sleeps for one hour and then rises again to continue his work. Dr. Sasaki works for three straight days after this and only returns home on August 8th to inform his mother that he is alive.
Dr. Fujii, too hurt to help anyone, lies on the floor of his parents roofless house for several days after which he manages to make it to a friend’s house. In the courtyard of the tin works factory, Miss Sasaki lies abandoned for two days under a makeshift lean-to. On August 8th she is tracked down to be informed that her mother, father and brother are all most likely dead. After this she is taken to several different hospitals and listens as doctors discuss whether or not to amputate her leg. Eventually the leg is left as it is badly fractured but still salvageable. She is taken to a military hospital on the island of Ninoshima.
Days after the bombing the residents of Hiroshima finally begin to come out of shock and comprehend the full extent of the damage to their city and their lives. Around the time that the second bomb falls on Nagasaki, information on their family members of the residents begins to trickle down to them. The Nakamuras make it to the Novitiate but become ill and weak. Mrs. Nakamura discovers that her mother, sister and brother have all been killed in the blast.
Mr. Tanimoto is called to the deathbed of a former enemy and the man listens to him read psalms as he dies, although he was once a pronounced hater of Christianity. Miss Sasaki is taken from the military hospital a few days later and put onto a ship where the harsh sunlight on the deck makes the infection in her leg grow worse. The cities doctors and hospitals are all incredibly overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients they are being asked to deal with. They begin cremating corpses and collecting the ashes in envelopes so that they can be stacked up.
Early in the morning on August 15th, the ruler of the country, Emperor Tenno announces over the radio that Japan has unconditionally surrendered and the war is officially over. However, the fallout from the blast is not over yet. Weeks after the bomb is dropped, the people of the city begin falling victim to radiation sickness. Father Kleinsorge is the first of the main characters to be struck by the sickness. He is walking across the city when he suddenly begins to feel weak and barely makes it back to the mission. Mrs. Nakamura is next, her hair begins to falls out and she and her young daughter become very sick. Mr. Tanimoto also becomes feverish and bedridden.
When Miss Sasaki is transferred to the Red Cross Hospital, she falls under the care of Dr. Sasaki who notices small hemorrhages covering her body. He considers this a strange symptom but has noticed many patients developing it in the past few days. Later, he finds out that this is a symptom related to low white-blood cell count that stems from radiation sickness. Dr. Fujii, partially recovered, begins to treat some patients again at a friend’s house in Fukawa. However, in early September heavy rains begin to flood the city and Dr. Fujii is forced to evacuate his makeshift clinic before it washes into the river.
The radiation sickness continues to confuse and baffle the doctors and citizens of the city. Mrs. Nakamura and Mr. Tanimoto gradually recover from their illness but Father Kleinsorge only gets more ill. He is sent to a hospital in Toyko and is given a diagnoses of only a few weeks to live. But he begins to get better after this and becomes somewhat of a media item in Tokyo because of his miraculous recovery. He is interviewed by many doctors and even some newspaper reporters.
Back in Hiroshima, physicists begin documenting and studying the blast site. Dr. Sasaki and his coworkers begin developing new theories about the radiation sickness as they watch it develop in their patients. Miss Sasaki’s infection continues to linger well into winter and she becomes depressed from being in the hospital so long. Especially as her fiancee does not come to visit her. Father Kleinsorge comes back to the city and visits Miss Sasaki who seems to perk up and draw some strength from the priests presence. By April she is largely recovered and able to walk on crutches.
Little by little, the residents of Hiroshima and the main characters of the story begin to resume some parts of their normal lives. Dr. Fujii opens another new clinic and capitalizes on the influx of visitors to Japan by treating American patients. Father Kleinsorge and his colleagues begin to build another mission house. However, the stressful pace that Kleinsorge sets for himself in this endeavor causes him to fall ill again and he must rest again in Tokyo hospital.
Mr. Tanimoto also tries to rebuild his church but he does not have the money to do much. Mrs. Nakamura’s hair begins to grow back and she manages to put together enough money to rent a new house near her old one, though it is little more than a shack. The schools begin to reopen and Mrs. Nakamura re-enrolls her children in classes. Dr. Sasaki’s frantic pace after the blast begins to slow down and he finds he has more and more time to rest and focus on his personal life. He marries in the following March.
Forty years after the bomb was dropped, John Hersey returned to Hiroshima to discover what had become of the six survivors that he wrote about. His subsequent findings were published in the magazine, The New Yorker and later added as a postscript to the end of the book. This later became chapter five, the last chapter in the book.
In the early years after the bomb was dropped, many employers refused to hire workers with radiation sickness. As a result of this, Mrs. Nakamura faced poverty for a very long time. She worked for thirteen years in a mothball factory and was not able to retire until her oldest son, Toshio started working to support the family. Later on, after her children married and moved away, Mrs. Nakamura began living off of her pension. Thirty years after the blast in 1975, a law was passed granting a monthly pension to those that were affected by the explosion. After this, Mrs. Nakamura lives comfortably and takes up dancing. On the fortieth anniversary of the explosion she dances in a remembrance festival in Hiroshima.
After the explosion, the victims affected became known in Japan as ‘hibakusha’ (literally meaning ‘explosion-affected persons’). In the years after the blast, Dr. Sasaki spends much of his time helping the hibakusha until he quits the hospital in 1951 and sets up a private clinic in Mukaihara. In 1963 he nearly dies during an operation to remove one of his lungs and in 1972 his wife passes away from breast cancer. This personal tragedy only drives him to work harder and he continues to use the success of his clinic to build better medical facilities.
Father Kleinsorge chooses to take the name Father Makoto Takakura and become a Japanese citizen. Though he never fully recovers from his radiation sickness he continues to work exhaustively to help people affected by the blast. In 1961, he moves to a small church in Mukaihara where he begins a friendly relationship with his cook, Satsue Yoshiki. He is further injured in a fall in 1977 and after this is bedridden until he eventually passes away. Hersey says that the flowers on his grave are kept fresh.
Miss Sasaki undergoes three operations to repair her injured leg but never fully recovers. She works in orphanages for a short time before, under the auspice of Father Kleinsorge, she eventually becomes a nun in 1957. Sister Dominique Sasaki travels around the world and has a very distinguished career. In 1980 she speaks at a dinner in Tokyo and recounts her experiences during the blast in Hiroshima. She says that she feels that she was given a “spare life” and wants to “keep moving forward”.
Dr. Fujii rebuilds his clinic in Hiroshima and begins to indulge in drinking, partying and relaxing in order to cure his pain. He begins working with unmarried female burn victims called ‘Hiroshima Maidens’ and helping them to be granted plastic surgery. In 1963, Dr. Fujii is found unconscious from a gas leak in his home and taken to the hospital. Soon after this he falls into a coma and dies.
Mr. Tanimoto travels to America to give speeches and raise money for the victims of Hiroshima and to build a peace center in Japan. He eventually meets the author Pearl Buck and begins working with her as well. However, many Japanese and American people begin to consider him an attention seeker and he eventually retires from his campaign. His peace center is never realized although he does run a small adoption center from his home.
Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura – a widow raising three children on her own. At the beginning of the novel Mrs. Nakamura is exhausted from having to collect her children and bring them to a safe area every time the air raid siren goes off. When the siren goes off on the morning of August 6th, she assumes that it is another false alarm and decides to let her children continue sleeping. When the bomb drops Mrs. Nakamura watches her neighbor die and then has to dig her children out of her demolished house. She brings her children to Asano Park safe zone where, after a few days they are brought to a Jesuit Novitiate. In the years after the war she faces financial hardship working for a mothball factory until she eventually begins receiving a pension for survivors of the Hiroshima bombing and lives comfortably after that for the rest of her life.
Miss Toshiko Sasaki – a twenty year-old clerk working at the East Asia Tin Works. Miss Sasaki works to support her parents and her under achieving brother. On the morning of August 6th she is at work when the bomb goes off. She is injured in the blast after being pinned by a heavy bookcase and undergoes months of physical therapy and operations to regain the ability to use her leg. After the war is over she eventually converts Catholicism and becomes a nun.
Dr. Masakazu Fujii – a fifty year old doctor who is successful enough that he is able to work at a private clinic and turn away patients. During the blast Dr. Fujii’s clinic gets toppled into the Kyo River that it sits next to. Dr. Fujii goes into the river as well, but survives and manages to pull himself to shore. He recovers for many months from his injuries and eventually gets back to working as a physician, helping many survivors of the blast. Dr. Fujii eventually restores his clinic and lives to excess to deal with his trauma. He is killed two decades later after succumbing to a gas leak in his home.
Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge – a Jesuit German priest who works and lives in a mission in Hiroshima. He is reading in his room when the bomb explodes and, though the mission manages to escape most of the damage because of stronger foundations, he finds himself in shock after the blast and wanders around his house bleeding from many cuts. After he recovers, he begins helping as many people as he can and travels with his fellow priests to Asano Park where he assists with restoration efforts and preaches to those in need. Father Kleinsorge begins to suffer from radiation sickness a few weeks after the blast and, though he initially recovers, is struck down again years later and continues to be plagued by the illness for the rest of his life.
Dr. Terufumi Sasaki – a young surgeon working at the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima. Dr. Sasaki survives the bombing due, not only to the fact that he happened to take an earlier train to work that morning but the fact that he was standing in front of an open window when the bomb went off.
He is the only doctor in his entire hospital who is unhurt and able to start tending to patients right away. Dr. Sasaki works non-stop for the first days after the bombing, going without sleep. He is not even able to contact his mother to tell her he is alive for the first three days. After things start to calm down, Dr. Sasaki is able to get back to a more normal schedule and eventually marries and continues to see success, later becoming wealthy and respected in his practice.
The Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto – an American educated Methodist minister who is eager to prove to the Japanese government that he is a loyal citizen after he returns to his home country. When the bomb explodes, Mr. Tanimoto is helping a friend’s daughter move into a new house and manages to survive the blast by taking shelter behind some large rocks in a garden. Miraculously, Mr. Tanimoto soon finds that his family has also survived and they are reunited. He brings his family to Asano Park and begins assisting as best he can with aiding the injured and displaced people. After the war he begins trying to raise money for the survivors of the blast and with the idea of building a peace center in Hiroshima. Unfortunately after a while his efforts begin to be seen by most as attention-seeking and he decides to stop raising money. He spends the rest of his years running an adoption center from his home with his wife.
John Hersey Biography
John Hersey was an American Author and journalist who was born in Tientsin, China in 1914. The son of Protestant missionaries, Hersey learned to speak Chinese fluently before he learned to speak English. Hersey’s family moved back to the United States when he was ten years old. Hersey was a good student in school and later attended Yale University where he was a member of the prestigious Skull and Bones Society. During the autumn of 1937, Hersey began working for Time magazine and was made into an overseas correspondent during World War II.
During the war, Hersey served as a correspondent in both the Pacific and European theaters. He traveled with the Allied troops on their invasion of Sicily and helped to properly evacuate wounded soldiers from Guadalcanal for which he was commended by the Secretary of the Navy. In 1942, he began writing full-length, non-fiction books with “Men on Bataan” and “Into the Valley” a year later in 1943. In 1944, Hersey published, “A Bell For Adano”; for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction the following year.
After the war, Hersey began working for The New Yorker and was sent to Japan where he found a letter written by a Jesuit missionary who had survived the atomic blast. Hersey thought this would make a good article and visited the missionary who introduced him to more survivors. The result was the article (and, eventually the book) titled “Hiroshima”, for which he was critically acclaimed.
Hersey went on to write “The Wall” in 1950 about a Jewish community in Warsaw, Poland and “The Algiers Motel Incident” in 1968 about the ’67 Detriot riots. Hersey taught two writing courses at Yale for the next 18 years and continued to teach until 1984.
In 1985, Hersey returned to Hiroshima forty years after the bomb was dropped to check up on the people whom he had featured in his book. The follow-up to Hiroshima was called, “The Aftermath” and was published in The New Yorker in it’s July 1985 issue. The article was then added to the end of the published editions of the book as a fifth and final chapter.
John Hersey died at his home in Key West, Florida on March 24th 1993 and was buried in Martha’s Vineyard. He was survived by his wife, their five children and six grandchildren.