On the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pellegrino’s (Farewell, Titanic: Her Final Legacy, 2012, etc.) account of the survivors—a book recalled and pulped in 2010 by its original publisher after doubts about the authenticity of the claims made by one of the author’s sources—now appears in a revised edition.
After the atomic devastation of Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, a surviving father told his daughter: “Thank God we have relatives in Nagasaki. We will be safe there.” Based on interviews, memoirs, archival research, and new reporting, Pellegrino’s narrative is as riveting and powerful as John Hersey’s classic Hiroshima (1946). Recounting graphically detailed stories of the hibakusha (exposed), including double survivors who experienced the bombings of both cities, the author conjures a hellish landscape: we see “flash-burned” images on roads, people dissolving into gas and desiccated carbon, a man seemingly tap-dancing on feetless legs, and men, women, and children “degloved,” their skin pulled off by the wind. Much of the focus is on Hiroshima, which “was converted to a lake of yellowish boiling dust, left behind by a billowing red cloud that rose at impossible speed.” There, thousands of people “lived on the cusp of instantaneous nonexistence, on the verge of dying before it was possible to realize they were about to die.” Others lingered with radiation disease, dying most often from cancer; some survived for many years with nightmares and psychological damage. The second, more powerful bomb actually missed Nagasaki, obliterating an adjacent suburb. As in Hiroshima, some people were vaporized; others, sufficiently sheltered, went unharmed. Concerned mainly with ordinary people whose lives were changed in a “split second catastrophe,” Pellegrino also narrates the heartbreaking stories of the U.S. pilots (“My God, what have we done?” wrote one) and the many atomic orphans, as well as the origin of paper cranes fashioned by survivors as messages of hope.
This is horrifying, painful, and necessary reading.