Barefoot Gen: The Day After, Vol. 2: by Keiji Nakazawa, 234 pgs By Sean Carswell

Apr 02, 2007

Barefoot Gen is an amazing graphic novel series that Last Gasp is currently putting out. The author and artist, Keiji Nakazawa, was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped. He was pretty close to the epicenter of the bomb, but because of where he was standing when the bomb exploded, he survived. His father, big sister, and little brother weren’t so lucky. Their house collapsed on them and they burned to death in the resulting fire. His pregnant mother survived. She immediately went into labor. The baby survived, too, but only for a few months. This series is a slightly fictionalized account of Nakazawa’s experience, and Nakazawa’s alter ego is named Gen. The first book covers the lead up to the bomb dropping. You get to meet Gen and his family and find out that his father was so adamantly anti-war that he was briefly imprisoned. The first book has a nice mixture of humor and sadness. I was caught up in the lives of these characters. I liked them, and Nakazawa avoids making the mistake of only showing the good side of characters who are doomed. The characters have their flaws and faults, but you learn to love them despite that. Then the bomb drops and the first book ends. As you can guess by the title, The Day After covers August 7, 1945, as Gen, his mother, and the infant struggle to stay alive in the aftermath of the bomb. It’s a gripping and horrifying book, a first hand account of what a nuclear bomb really does. Gen is surrounded by people who are literally falling apart: skin melting off, meat coming loose off the bone. He is surrounded by the most horrifying deaths imaginable, one after another, as he tries to find some rice for his mother so that she can feed the infant. They know that they have to leave Hiroshima, but they don’t really have anywhere to go. They end up walking to the next town over and staying with a childhood friend of Gen’s mother. The friend welcomes them, but the friend’s mother-in-law doesn’t want Gen, his mother, and the baby to stay there, so she makes life miserable for them. This installment wraps up with the wayward three struggling to survive, leaving with nowhere to go. It’s heartbreaking. Still, considering that, during every single congressional session since Bush has been in power, Congress has debated whether or not to fund research for “bunker buster” nuclear bombs (considering that research for these so-called usable nuclear weapons continues despite it being voted down in Congress), and considering that nuclear proliferation continues more than sixty years after the brutal events of August 6 and 8, 1945, I think this book should be required reading for everyone. It’s important to somewhat understand the horrors that we’re funding with the taxes we pay. –Sean Carswell (Last Gasp, 777 Florida St., SF, CA 94110)