Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: Hiroshima in the Morning

Summary: In June 2001, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto went to Hiroshima in search of a deeper understanding of her war-torn heritage. She planned to spend six months there, interviewing the few remaining survivors of the atomic bomb. A mother of two young boys, she was encouraged to go by her husband, who quickly became disenchanted by her absence.

It is her first solo life adventure, immediately exhilarating for her, but her research starts off badly. Interviews with the hibakusha feel rehearsed, and the survivors reveal little beyond published accounts. Then the attacks on September 11 change everything. The survivors’ carefully constructed memories are shattered, causing them to relive their agonizing experiences and to open up to Rizzuto in astonishing ways.

Separated from family and country while the world seems to fall apart, Rizzuto’s marriage begins to crumble as she wrestles with her ambivalence about being a wife and mother. Woven into the story of her own awakening are the stories of Hiroshima in the survivors’ own words. The parallel narratives explore the role of memory in our lives, and show how memory is not history but a story we tell ourselves to explain who we are. -- Feminist Press

Usually when I pick up a memoir, it's because the person writing the book has led a really interesting life or has something special that happened to them. With HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, that was certainly the case. Rahna Reiko Rizzuto decided to leave her husband and young sons for sixth month and head to Japan to interview hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bomb. Since I know next to nothing about this subject, I thought her story might be interesting. Plus, I admit that as a mother, I was curious to see how she could leave her family for that period of time.

I did find Ms. Rizzuto's story to be extremely interesting, but I was surprised by how many other things I really appreciated about this memoir. In fact, I think I found the stories of the hibakusha to be what ultimately affected me the most. While I have always known that the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was a horrific event that killed hundreds of thousands people, I don't think I ever really thought about the effect that it had on those who actually survived. (I know that I'm a pretty bad person for that and I'm not proud of it.) I can barely fathom surviving the bomb, but when I think about living with the scars -- both the internal and external ones, it really does give me a great deal to think about.

In addition to the survivors' stories, I found Ms. Rizzuto's writing to be simply amazing. I certainly was reading this book for the subject matter, but I can't tell you how pleasantly surprised I was with the author's writing. HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING truly was a beautiful book to read and her descriptions of Japan were very much appreciated by this reader. I absolutely loved how she portrayed the hibakusha's stories with so much tenderness and compassion. She used actual narratives from the survivors and I felt that reading their words was extremely powerful.

I was rather surprised with Ms. Rizzuto's honesty when it came to telling her own story. I admit that I had a hard time understanding how she could leave her family (and especially her young sons) for six months -- I can barely leave mine for a few days without missing them and  feeling terribly guilty. And, I give her a great deal of credit for providing so much insight into her relationship with her husband. Her words are extremely heartfelt and it had to be difficult to share so much of the pain that was going on in her life. It became clear to me the more I read Ms. Rizzuto's words that she was really searching for some answers in her own life -- about marriage, motherhood, her mother's dementia, and redeeming the past. She admitted many things about herself that I had a hard time really understanding; however, I did appreciate reading her story because I think it broadened my mind about how different women view marriage and motherhood.

I don't know if I'm doing a good job expressing all of my thoughts about HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING in this review. I'm finding it difficult for me to articulate them; however, I am going to try to convey how good this memoir really is. I think you've gotten the idea that the author's story is "worthy" of a book, but the way she presents her story is truly what sets this book apart from other memoirs. This book was a pretty quick read for me because I couldn't put it down. I liked how Ms. Rizzuto went back and forth between the present and the past and how she interwove the survivors' personal narratives into the book. In addition, I found it extremely interesting how she juxtaposed the Hiroshima bombing with the 9/11 terrorist attacks with the events in her personal life. It amazed me how it all just came together in this book, and I think that's a credit to the author.

If you are looking for a well-written memoir that explores some very difficult subjects, then I highly suggest HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING.

I also want to share with you that there will be a live chat with Rahna Reiko Rizzuto in just a few days -- September 22nd. I'm sure it will be fascinating to have the opportunity to ask the author a few questions. Here are the details:

Join us for a Facebook Party Celebrating the Release of HIROSHIMA IN THE MORNING

When:  September 22, 2010 8:30 PM EST
Where:  Facebook.  Be sure to like Rahna Reiko Rizzuto on Facebook.
Who:  You!
What:  A Live Chat with author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto about her new book, Hiroshima in the Morning.  There will also be a chance to win a Koa carved bookmark from Hawaii and receive an entry into the grand prize.
Thanks to the publisher and Winsome Media for sending me a copy of this book.


brizmus said...

I've got a copy of this book which I am super looking forward to reading. It sounds like a beautifully heartfelt work of art, and I am glad that she tells her story so honestly while at the same time telling the stories of the survivors.

bermudaonion said...

I thought Vance might like the book since he was very moved by his visit to Hiroshima, but after reading your review, I think it's probably more for me than him. You know I do love a good memoir.

S. Krishna said...

I heard you talking about this one on Twitter and book club, and I had no idea what it was about! It sounds really incredible, I'm adding it to my TBR list.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I, on the contrary, am not really a memoir person! :--)

Jo-Jo said...

When I first noticed this book I didn't notice that it was a memoir. Now I am even more intrigued and definitely need to add it to my list. Thanks for the review!

Alyce said...

I like memoirs, but have to admit that I am more interested in the Hiroshima survivors interviews than the rest of the book.

I read Hiroshima Diary by Michihiko Hachiya a few years ago. It's the published diary of a doctor who was working in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing, and relates his and his patients' experiences afterwards. It's one of the best Hiroshima books I've read (not that I've read many).

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love memoirs of just about any kind, and while Hiroshima was a horrible time in history, I think we owe it to mankind to learn more about it. I'm definitely not going to let this one pass me by.

Capability Mom said...

I also reviewed this book and agree that the writing in Hiroshima in the Morning is lovely. I also found the stories of the survivors compelling. I had more of a problem with the leaving the family thing.

diaryofaneccentric said...

I just finished this book the other day, and I know I'm going to have a hard time reviewing it. I thought it was going to be mainly about Hiroshima, but it's so much more than that!

I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.