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July 08, 2024

Hiroshima in the Morning: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Hiroshima in the Morning, by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.

In Brooklyn, in 2001, I was making a list. I knew I was leaving, but if I had known how thoroughly my life would shatter over the next six months, into gains just as astonishing as the losses; if I knew I was saying goodbye to the person I was that night, that decade, that lifetime, if I understood I was about to become someone new, too new, someone I was proud of, who I loved, but who was too different to fit here, in this particular, invisible narrative that I was sitting in but couldn't feel, would I still have gotten on the airplane?

This is the question people will ask me. The question that curls, now, in the dark of the night.

How do any of us decide to leave the people we love? - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 15 -

When the bomb drops, our lives must change: utterly, and forever. The only question is, will we look up or not? Will we recognize that moment when it happens, or only long after it has past? Will there be many moments -- a procession, a spiral, a cloud -- or only one, one we will live over and over again, until we can feel the world we knew slip out from under our feet and a new one come up to catch us, for good or bad, before we fall? - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 286 -

In the Spring of 2001, author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto packed up her bags and moved to Japan on a six month research grant, leaving behind her husband Brian and her two young sons. At the time, her intent was to gather interviews and information for a new novel revolving around the 1945 US bombing of Hiroshima. What she did not know was that her journey was to open doors to much deeper issues: her marriage, her role as mother, her memories of her own family ... and ultimately her own vision of herself.

Early on, Rizzuto faced difficulties with the Japanese language and culture. It was hard to get interviews set up and when she did talk to the survivors of Hiroshima (the hibakusha) the stories felt rote and practiced. Something was missing. And then September 11, 2001 arrived, and everything changed.

How we tell our stories makes all the difference. They are where we store our tears, where the eventual healing lies. If "we" are talking, then we are safe in our group perspective; we do not have to own our experience alone, nor do we have to feel it. What September 11 gave to the hibakusha, and what they gave in turn to me, is a way to re-enter memory. As scary, and painful, as it is to claim our pronouns, "we" cannot inhabit our own lives until "I" begins to speak. - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 239 -

Hiroshima in the Morning is a stunning, deeply felt, and brave memoir. Rizzuto was drawn to Hiroshima from a very personal place -- her aunt Molly lived in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb dropped, working for a government organization whose public goal was to assist the survivors, but whose actual role was to research the effects of the atomic bomb; and members of Rizzuto's family had been interned in the United States as part of the knee-jerk reaction to imprison U.S. citizens who were of Japanese descent. Rizzuto thought that what she was seeking was a question of how war impacts individuals; about how Japanese-Americans had no home after the bomb -- they were not welcome in the United States, and those who returned to Japan quickly discovered they were not considered Japanese either.

I want to know what war is. What happens? Not who fights, or who dies, or how does the amputated family rise from the ashes, but: What is the subtle effect of fear, uncertainty, aggression, starvation? How do the things we can see and name, even when we think we've survived them, change the people who we are? - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 77 -

It is the shadows I am thinking of. The past should cast a shadow on who we are now. If there is a puzzle, then here's another piece of it: my mother, who forgot that she was interned long before she began truly forgetting; my family, who never mentioned it, who hid the photographs, for whom to heal was to forget. I am the descendant of a group of people who built a wall down the center of their lives, between the internment and their future, and thrived on the disconnect. - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 109 -

What makes Hiroshima in the Morning special is not the questions which Rizzuto first set out to answer, but the very personal growth and discovery that becomes the central theme of the book. Woven through the narrative are Rizzuto's memories of her mother -- a woman who was without question a wonderful mother, and who now was losing her memories to dementia. As Rizzuto struggles with her own role as mother, she begins to see her mother in a different way. The journey for Rizzuto becomes that of uncovering her own identity, separate from her role as mother.

How, in a life that always seemed defined by all she didn't do, could my mother have also been a woman? And what kind? How can it be only now, at age thirty-seven, that I am learning that a mother is also a woman? A female adult, with her own name? - from Hiroshima in the Morning, page 190 -

By the time I had turned the last page of this elegant memoir, I had grown to respect the author ... especially because of her brutal self-honesty and her courage to reveal things about herself which many people would not. Here was a mother who had left behind her three and five year old sons in order to pursue her dreams, who must have recognized she would be judged by others for that choice. Yet, Rizzuto bravely puts forth her experience, showing us that perhaps there are multiple definitions of what it means to be a mother ... that identity is more than a role which we play, but instead is something that evolves and changes and is made up of many aspects: our heritage, our common experience, the choices we make, our view of the world.

Rizzuto's prose is breathtaking, poetic, and insightful. I loved this book on so many levels, but especially for its wisdom. What Rizzuto does in Hiroshima in the Morning is to place the individual within the context of the community, to show that we are all connected through our stories and experiences, and that self-discovery is to be found in our relationships with others as well as through our unique view of the world.

Hiroshima in the Morning is a book which I highly recommend. Women, especially, will be drawn to Rizzuto's story. This is a story which transcends the average memoir, a story which is both personal and universal.

Five stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-10-25
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