Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, John Bester (Translator)


Yasuko can simply accept that there is no suitable candidate for marriage, but the real trouble is the rumour. The rumour is about her work in the kitchens of the Second Middle School Service Corps in Hiroshima City. The villagers of Kobatake were saying that she was a victim of radiation sickness. It was far from the truth when Yasuko worked as a receptionist at Japan Textile Company when she was in Hiroshima.

Meanwhile, Yasuko's uncle, Shigematsu Shizuma, was having symptoms of radiation sickness, including sudden lethargy, pimples appearing on his scalp, and hair loss. Some people who came home from Hiroshima thought they had escaped from the illness but eventually died within a week or ten days.

After four years and nine months since the end of the war, Yasuko finally had the chance of a match. Her uncle suggested it's better for the marriage proposal if she gets a health certificate after being examined by a doctor. The go-between wanted to know Yasuko's movements in Hiroshima during the bombings until her return to Kobatake. Yasuko handed her private journal for 1945 to her uncle, and Shigematsu copied the relevant parts of the diary for the go-between.

Yasuko's diary entry began on August 5, detailing the daily lives of ordinary citizens during the days of the bombings in Hiroshima. Then, the family wondered whether they should skip the part about the black rain to avoid trouble. Shigematsu plans to rewrite his own account of the bombing, which started in September 1945.

Although the writer of this book wasn't present at the time of the bombing, he could still produce such a brilliant piece of work by fully utilising the diaries of survivors. It was an encapturing read. Occasionally, the writer included some sense of humour to ease the gloomy period. For example, Shigematsu and his friend were fishing at the lake and had an argument with a widow. They only can perform delicate tasks due to radiation sickness. A widow passed by the lake and teased them for having such a comfortable life, whereas others were working on the farms. The taunting leads to an animated and humourous argument among them.

The story of Yasuko's family is interwoven with the diaries written by her and her uncle. It was vividly documented, including their experience of looking for refuge after the bombing. They had to go through the heat and walk on the streets exposed to asphalt and scattered corpses in different shapes and sizes everywhere. Her aunt Shigeko took part in jotting down the details of the food shortage and diet during the Hiroshima wartime. Throughout the story, the narration only focuses on the struggle and effort of staying alive during wartime. There wasn't much about avenging and blaming the enemies. Most people were trying to make sense of what had happened, why they ended up in such a condition, looking for their missing family members and friends, and how they would move on from then onwards.

Besides Yasuko's family, there were numerous accounts from different people about what they experienced, witnessed or heard from their family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and so on. Medical professionals were still unclear about the effects of radiation sickness on war survivors. Family members and doctors jotted down the symptoms and progress of the illness and compared the notes with other patients. The ending was also the beginning of the severity of radiation sickness that fell on one of the main characters.

I don't think many people will have enough patience to read the details of various notes and diaries about the war. It's a complex journal that I wonder if many people will enjoy reading. It's overly detailed and sometimes with disturbing stories. Sometimes I lose my patience too because it's monotonous, repetitive and long-winded, but one thing for sure is the realism of the narration.

ISBN Number of Pages Rating
9784770050106 (eBook) 396 ★★★ (3/5)
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