Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story

Image result for sachiko stelsonSachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story
Caren Stelson
Carolrhoda, 2016  144 pgs
Grades 4-7

Stelson recounts the experiences of a "hibakusha", a survivor of the atomic bomb blast on Nagasaki. Sachiko was six years old when the bomb was dropped on her hometown during the final days of the war. She was playing with friends, who were all killed in the explosion. Sachiko's baby brother died instantly from the explosion. Another brother died very soon after from extensive burns. A third brother passed away shortly after from radiation poisoning. A beloved uncle soon followed. Sachiko's remaining family tried to pick up the pieces from the destruction and start again only to have the remaining sister die from Leukemia. Sachiko's father died before his time of cancer related to the blast and Sachiko herself battled thyroid cancer in her early twenties, a common condition for the hibakusha. Throughout all of the tragedy Sachiko studied hard, did well in school, an established a profession for herself as an accountant. She studied the works of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., finding inspiration in their lives, encouraging her to dedicate her own to peace even though she didn't have the confidence or heart to share her experiences. Courage was inspired by Helen Keller, who Sachiko saw in person during a visit by the famous American to raise disability awareness in Japan. Drawing from these sources of inspiration, Sachiko finally finds her voice and becomes a tireless public advocate for peace, sharing her story, and, eventually, coming to terms with the tragedy that inflicted destruction on both her country and her family.

I had the opportunity to visit Japan a few years ago and fell in love with the country, the culture and the people. I was drawn to a bunch of old men singing songs who had gathered a crowd and I moved in closer to enjoy the music. My friend, who was living in Tokyo at the time, pulled me away telling me that they were singing old war songs and as an American I wouldn't be welcome. This was the first time I ever really considered WWII from Japan's point of view. Stelson provides a rare glimpse of the Japanese home front through the eyes of the child, including the tragedy that was the bombing of Nagasaki and its aftermath. The story is powerful, the writing solid, and the photos captivating. Even though the subject matter is grim, Stelson stays age appropriate for later elementary school-aged children, although sensitive kids will be disturbed by the story. Even though the bomb was dropped by the United States, our country is not painted as the soul villain. The real villain is war and both the subject of this biography and the author plead for peace. In fact, Sachio has dedicated the last twenty years of her life to sharing her story and advocating for peace and the disarmament of nuclear weapons. The book is carefully researched with extensive notes, index, and photo-credits. A glossary of Japanese terms is included at the end of the book along with an author's note, tracing her journey to bring Sachiko's story to the printed page. A powerful account that deserves to be told and one that will forever change the heart of the reader.

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