1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”….
Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.
Today I am happy to share a guest post about the importance of literature. Enjoy!
“RETURN TO HIROSHIMA”: THE EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES OF A NUCLEAR WAR
Lately, many people ask me if I think that literature is still meaningful in this era of fast changing means of communication, rapidly progressing digital technology, and accordingly adapted ways of watching and “experiencing” movies, streamed television series, and news.
Literature does matter in our time. Let me be so frank to explain my conviction by means of Return to Hiroshima, my latest novel in English. As the first city ever that was struck by a nuclear bomb, Hiroshima has become an iconic symbol, so a novel with that name in the title inevitably has to refer to that moment in time that changed human history forever.
But why write a work of fiction in which the nuclear detonation plays such an important role? It’s easier, and faster, to download a documentary about the theme, or to let you be carried away by watching an after-the-bomb movie.
Afterwards, we’re informed, aren’t we?
In a way, yes, but literature has an added value. It can provoke in us an empathic understanding of, in this case, the consequences of nuclear warfare.
Moreover, are we as informed as we think we are? Mass-media and social networks spread “news bytes” every second around the globe but have desensitized us to a certain degree to the deeper meaning – or consequences – of the experience behind information.
As an example, let me ask you what you think about the heightened possibility of a WWIII, which is being discussed so often in news outlets lately?
Tensions are on the rise all over the world, and a new World War is nearer than ever since the end of the Cold War. Democratic regimes seem to lose ground against demagogic populists and dictators. Never before was the turbulent Middle East such a chaos of shifting alliances and growing animosity, and the endless Syrian civil war could become the trigger of a worldwide conflict.
Thus, the most important question today is: how close are we to WWIII?
People tend to react to this question with a curiously abstract resignation. They usually confess that they can’t fathom how it would be, a global nuclear conflict. Often, they say: “They won’t let it come that far, will they? I can’t imagine they would. “
One of the problems of the digital society is precisely that mass-media and social networks, have wrecked havoc on our ability to use our imagination. This is the point where literature can step in. You may have trouble imagining what a nuclear conflict would be like, but literature can.
I like movies and television series, even games and social networks, as much as everybody, but I notice that, when spending much time on these media, my level of thinking is reduced to a receptive, confined mode. The essence of a story often slips away from me like water from a seal.
This is not the case when I read a novel that resonates within me. Words can convey sensations that sophisticated visual media cannot. Words can vibrate with layers of meaning, and they can make the reader emotionally receptive. The power to step into the story, not wandering on the outskirts of it, is readily available.
So, as an experiment, allow me to present a few lines of Return to Hiroshima. In one of the chapters, a Seizon-cha, a survivor of the nuclear bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, recalls what he saw and felt.
A woman staggered past the burning buildings with a baby in her arms. The heat had caused the baby’s skin to peel. He was limp and motionless in her arms.
A man tugged at the body of a teenager buried under the rubble. The boy’s skull was cracked open and brain tissue was hanging out of the wound. He had lost his right eye. He was calling out for his mother, his voice clear and steady. The man had pulled away enough rubble to see that both legs had been crushed. He tried to lift the boy. He succeeded. He continued on his way, the boy motionless in his arms.
A girl, blood gushing from her mouth, stumbled through the ruins of a school. Hands shot up from the rubble, bloody and smoldering. They tried to grab the girl by the
ankles. Voices begged: “Take me with you, take me with you!” In panic she kicked at the hands and ran on, her arms outstretched as if she was blind.
Hundreds of people tried to reach the river Aioi. They screamed for help, lost direction in the ash-filled clouds of smoke, and fell exhausted to the ground before they could reach the banks of the river and baked like clay stones in the raging fire.
Do these ample lines, plucked from a more-than-300-pages novel make you feel different?
In that case, you have the proof that reading literature resonates.
And I rest my case.
Bob Van Laerhoven – Flanders
Dank u, Bob van Laerhoven en RachelsRandomResources.
About the author
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Laerhoven published more than 35 books in Holland and Belgium. Some of his literary work is published in French, English, German, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Three time finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year with the novels “Djinn”, “The Finger of God,” and “Return to Hiroshima”; Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”.
His collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions,” first published by The Anaphora Literary Press in the USA in 2015, was hailed as “best short story collection of 2015” by the San Diego Book Review. The collection is translated in Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. “Retour à Hiroshima”, the French translation of “Return to Hiroshima,” is recently finished. In 2018, The Anaphora Literary Press published “Heart Fever”, a second collection of short stories. Heart Fever, written in English by the author, is a finalist in the Silver Falchion 2018 Award in the category “short stories collections”. Laerhoven is the only non-American finalist of the Awards.
Social Media Links – Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G89ns-UgCzk