Think of Hiroshima and you probably see a mental picture of a nuclear bomb and its mushroom cloud. Perhaps you put yourself on the ground at the point of impact and imagine the immense heat and wind, vaporising people and buildings in its destructive path. What you might not be thinking about is the fate of the survivors, still affected by the destruction of their town, their families and their health decades later.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms will change all that. Following three generations of survivor through the post-war years, this book, written and illustrated by a resident of Hiroshima, will force you to rethink your outlook.
Manga (Japanese comics) have a fine tradition of Hiroshima stories, with Barefoot Gen leading the charge. But Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is just as moving, just as touching, without making any effort to recreate the immediate horror of the bomb’s impact.
Instead we skip forward 10 years. Those whose houses were destroyed in the blast are still making the best they can, living in wooden shacks by the river. The story zooms in on a family once bustling with siblings – now there’s only a mother and daughter, and a distant surviving son who escaped the horror and went to live with his uncle and aunt. Minami, the daughter, is deeply haunted by the past, riddled with guilt because she survived when others didn’t. As a result she’s incapable of feeling happy for long before waves of memories from the aftermath, and her lost father and siblings, swamp her once more. The aftershock of the bomb is still alive and within her, years down the line.
In the second story we move down a generation, to a time when the children of the youngest survivors are still trying to come to terms with what their parents must have gone through, finding their elders’ attitudes to illness and bad health plagued by the spectre of radiation sickness.
Kouno’s beautiful, soft drawing style evokes the dichotomy of Hiroshima, a town still living in the shadow of the bomb that tried its best to destroy every living thing that stood in its path. Wrecked buildings loom in the background as people go about their daily lives and the realisation of what’s happened creeps into the consciousness of the reader gently and subtly.
This is a beautiful book with a strong anti-nuclear message. Not one that’s forced violently upon us, but one that permeates our thoughts through gentle, sophisticated story-telling. It’s both sad and uplifting, as generations of Hiroshima’s residents try to heal themselves without forgetting the horror and tragedy of the events of August 6th, 1945.