Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: "The Last Train From Hiroshima" and "Edokko"

The New York Times recently published a fantastic review of Charles Pellegrino's sober and authoritative new book, “The Last Train From Hiroshima.” Here are a few interesting excerpts from the article:

"Mr. Pellegrino, whose many previous books include “Ghosts of the Titanic” (he also served as a scientific consultant to the director James Cameron on his Titanic expeditions and on “Avatar”), relates many stories in this book, not only those of wounded survivors but also of American and Japanese pilots and many others.

He pays particular attention to forensic detail, and provides a slow-motion, almost instant-by-instant explanation of how the atom bomb discharged its fury. There is not a lot that is new here, but “The Last Train From Hiroshima” is a firm, compelling synthesis of earlier memoirs and archival material, as well as of the author’s own interviews and research. This is gleaming, popular wartime history, John Hersey infused with Richard Preston and a fleck of Michael Crichton.

This isn’t a book that wrestles deeply with the moral calculus of the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Mr. Pellegrino doesn’t say whether he agrees with Paul Fussell, who wrote in “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb” that “the degree to which Americans register shock and extraordinary shame about the Hiroshima bomb correlates closely with lack of information about the Pacific war.”

But he certainly studies every kind of fallout and does not neglect the spiritual variety. He writes about one doctor who “recalled that those who survived the atomic bomb were, in general, the people who ignored others crying out in extremis or who stayed away from the flames, even when patients and colleagues shrieked from within them.”

This doctor confessed: “Those of us who stayed where we were, those of us who took refuge in the hills behind the hospital when the fires began to spread and close in, happened to escape alive. In short, those who survived the bomb were, if not merely lucky, in a greater or lesser degree selfish, self-centered — guided by instinct and not by civilization. And we know it, we who have survived.” " 

An excerpt of Mr. Pellegrino's book itself can be found HERE.

On a similar note, here at Japan Society, we recently featured author Isaac Shapiro, who was born to Russian Jewish parents in Tokyo in 1931 and grew up in the shadows of war torn Japan. Mr. Shapiro, who went on to become a prominent Manhattan attorney and president of Japan Society, shared the fascinating tale of his Russian/Jewish/Chinese/Japanese childhood in wartime Japan with us on January 14th.

The press release for that event is on our website, if you're interested in learning more.

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