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Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary

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FREE NOTES ON HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY - ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY

CHAPTER FIVE: THE AFTERMATH

Summary

This chapter narrates the six main characters’ lives as “hibakusha,” or atom bomb victims, from one year after the bomb to forty years after the bomb. It also includes side narrations of how the larger Hiroshima community rebuilt itself and how it responded over time to being the first city to be attacked with a nuclear weapon.

Mrs. Nakamura experienced a difficult first decade after the bombing. She began to do sewing work with her husband’s sewing machine, but soon fell ill and was forced to sell it to pay her doctor’s bill. She continued to suffer from a common version of long-term A-bomb sickness, involving weakness, exhaustion, problem digestion, and a feeling of doom. For this reason, she was never able to work for more than two or three days without requiring rest, and worked as much as she could doing odd jobs such as delivering bread, selling fish door-to-door, and collecting newspaper dues. She shared the feelings of many that her hardships were her fate, and was too busy to think about the morality of the bomb. There was no compensation or assistance from the government for Hiroshima survivors for twelve years, which added to her hardships. This was partly because the Japanese government hesitated to express responsibility for a disaster caused by the Americans.

Six years after the bombing, Mrs. Nakamura had the good fortune to move to a bigger house built by a do-good American doctor. Her children were developing normally, spared from common complications of bomb victims. She soon found work at a factory wrapping mothballs, owned by a compassionate man who did not discriminate against sickly bomb survivors. Her core of cheerfulness sustained her and won her friends, and she gradually moved on from the trauma of the bombing. She avoided the anti-nuclear and pro-survivors agitators, feeling they were too political, and even neglected to pick up her medical benefits card for a few years after it became available.

Her children all found employment and married, and her son Toshio moved into an addition to her house and began supporting her financially.

At age 55, Mrs. Nakamura retired from her factory job and gradually her life got easier. She was supported by Toshio, a pension from the factory, a war widow’s pension, and a living allowance for Hiroshima survivors that increased over the years. She spent time embroidering gifts and dancing in groups to Japanese folk music. She participated in the city’s flower festival forty years after the bombing, and was able to focus on the gaiety of the festival and feel the atom bomb tragedy far behind her. She suddenly felt weak, however, and was taken to the hospital. She wanted to go home and was released right away.

Dr. Sasaki spent the rest of his years trying to create distance between his new life and his horrible memories of the first few days after the bombing. In the first few years after the disaster, he worked on his doctoral dissertation, and enjoyed married life. Because of his family’s wealth, he was able to choose a good wife, and pursued the woman whose father turned him down initially. Dr. Sasaki worked primarily on hibakusha’s keloid scars at the Red Cross Hospital, until after six years he put his memories behind him and opened a private clinic in his father’s town, outside Hiroshima. His practice grew through his hard work and ambition, but he worked nine-and-a-half-hour days, six days a week.


Meanwhile, doctors treating hibakusha began to discover more serious long-term consequences for those exposed to the atom bomb. All kinds of cancers occurred more frequently in hibakusha, and many developed cataracts. Children often grew up stunted, and people suffered from a whole host of other minor ailments. Yet Dr. Sasaki was largely oblivious to all these developments, since he treated few hibakusha in his country clinic. It was when he traveled to Yokohama for further training in anesthesia that he came face to face with his own vulnerabilities as an A-bomb survivor.

The head doctor of the Yokohama hospital was himself a hibakusha, and recommended that Dr. Sasaki undergo a complete examination while he was there. Discovering a shadow in his left lung, doctors ended up removing the whole lung in surgery. Due to complications, Dr. Sasaki almost died. This experience changed his outlook on life and he resolved to treat his patients more compassionately and to spend more time with his wife and four children. When his wife died of breast cancer a few years later, he threw himself back into work, building a larger clinic to serve senior citizens, and a luxurious bathhouse for their enjoyment nearby. He grew to be one of the most wealthy men in all of Hiroshima prefecture.

Dr. Sasaki no longer feared Hiroshima. By the 1980s it had changed remarkably from the first few post-bomb years. Only one in ten citizens was a hibakusha, and the city was swathed in neon lights. The only regret Dr. Sasaki could not erase was that he had not been able to more carefully record the identities of all the Red Cross Hospital corpses so that they would not be wandering in the afterlife, upset at not being properly remembered.

Due to the combination of his radiation exposure and his tireless work ethic on behalf of others, Father Kleinsorge faced a difficult life of repeated hospital stays. He refused to slow down except when his body would collapse, much to the concern of his colleagues. Yet his missionary work reaped a harvest of a few hundred devoted converts. Father Kleinsorge was so committed to his work in Japan and to the Japanese people that after a few years he applied for and gained Japanese citizenship, adopting the name Father Makoto Takakura.

Throughout the 1950s, he struggled with various ailments, even spending an entire year in the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. After suffering strange infections in his fingers, fever and flu-like symptoms, low white blood counts, a cataract, and constant discomfort, he was finally transferred by the dioceses to a small church in Mukaihara, the same town as Dr. Sasaki. In Mukaihara, the believers were few and Father Takakura’s initial energy quickly waned. He commuted once a week for a checkup in Hiroshima. He tried his best to blend in that small town, but another Japanese priest privately reflected on how German Father Takakura remained.

A few years later he hired a new cook, Yoshiki-san, who also became his nurse, housekeeper, and constant companion. Father Takakura’s health steadily declined, as he developed a whole host of complications such as liver dysfunction, high blood pressure, and various aches and pains. As his condition worsened, numerous visitors came to thank him for his impact upon their life. In 1976, he fell on some ice and became bed-ridden. Yoshiki-san lovingly and loyally cared for him around the clock. The next year he fell into a coma and died, with Yoshiki-san by his side. Demonstrating her deep affections, Yoshiki-san always kept fresh flowers at his grave.

Miss Sasaki slowly raised her spirits by the first anniversary of the bombing, even as her fiancée rejected their engagement due to pressure from his family not to marry a hibakusha and cripple. Largely because of Father Kleinsorge’s faithful ministry to her, she was baptized into the Catholic faith in September. Charged with caring for her brother and sister who had survived the bombing in a suburb, she was overburdened and advised to put them in an orphanage. She found work at the same orphanage, however, and discovered her calling to care for young children. So she transferred to another orphanage where she received formal childcare training and a university education. Miss Sasaki also underwent orthopedic surgeries and was finally able to walk fairly normally, albeit with continued pain. Through her work with mixed-blood orphans of American soldiers fighting the Korean War, she came to believe that too much focus was paid on the evils of the atomic bomb and not enough on the evils of war in general.

In the mid-1950s, by Father Kleinsorge’s suggestion, she decided to become a nun. She persevered to learn Latin and French, discovering strength within herself that she believed came from having survived the A-bomb. She became Sister Dominique Sasaki, and because of her tenacity and talents she was put in charge of an old people’s home housing 70. Her leadership wrought improved accounting, two new buildings, and comfort for dying inmates. From her experience in Hiroshima, she wanted the dying not to feel lonely in their time of departure. Over the years, Sister Sasaki was honored for her work in the nuns’ order and she always strove to look to the future, not the past.

Three years after the bomb, Dr. Fujii built another clinic on the site of his destroyed one. His sons followed him into medical professions, and his eldest built a home next to his father’s clinic. He was spared all radiation sickness and complications, and enjoyed a life of leisure, socializing over whiskey with American occupation personnel. He joined a country club, went to baseball games, and installed a dance floor in his house. He visited the gaudy neon entertainment district often, earning a reputation as a playboy. In 1956, he traveled to New York with the so-called Hiroshima Maidens - young girls with facial burns from the bomb who had been chosen to receive free surgery in the U.S. - and enjoyed acting as interpreter and unofficial chaperone.


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