A Japanese survivor's tale of life after the bomb
In the Autumn Wind, by Dorothy Stroup. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. $19.95. 437 pages. As the anniversaries of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approach each August, thoughtful people everywhere must wonder how best to commemorate those cataclysmic events. This year, they'd do well to begin by reading Dorothy Stroup's novel.
Much of the literature that has grown up around the bombings of both cities has focused on the immediate devastation and on the ensuing international remorse. But ``In the Autumn Wind'' takes a slightly different approach. The author is an American who has lived and taught in Japan, and her viewpoint is distinctly Japanese. What's more, the voice she chooses to tell her story is that of a hibakusha - a survivor of the atomic bomb.
Chiyo Hara is a young Japanese mother, one of the few who walked through the epicenter of the blast in Hiroshima and lived to tell about it. Her eldest son was killed in the first blinding flash of light, and in the days, weeks, and years that followed, there were many other, equally wrenching deaths. Chiyo has her own desperate moments, but she manages to keep herself and the remaining members of her family alive - and ultimately thriving.
As it spans 40 years in the lives of one Japanese family, the novel spares few emotions. Unforgettable vignettes describing the horrors of the bombing itself are matched by the author's well-researched treatment of issues that took years to resolve and touched few Westerners, including the repatriation of some 6 million Japanese from Korea, Manchuria, China, Siberia, and Southeast Asia. There also are lovely touches of detail, from bath salts perfumed with pine needles and rose petals to flowers arranged in heirloom vases, and intimate glimpses of home life behind the rice-paper panels.
Stroup not only captures significant inflections of language, but also approaches deeper stirrings of the national soul as she recounts the struggles of generations of Japanese to find answers to pressing questions of armaments and peace, of collective guilt and individual forgiveness. As a survival tale, her novel sets memorable goals.
Diane Manuel is a free-lance book reviewer.