Reviewed by Yeng Xiong
A few years ago, I was in Japan, sightseeing all the major cities. One memory that will always stick with me was when I was in Hiroshima. In the city, they have a park called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which symbolizes the horrific act of its bombing, but also celebrates the lessons that come from it. I was walking in that park when there was a classroom full of teenage students standing in front of one of its memorials. Their teacher was giving a speech that resonated with me even though I didn’t understand what he was saying. That speech made me reflect on all the sacrifices the Japanese people faced and how they persevered through that dark event to be the nation they are today.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson chronicles the true-life story of Sachiko Yasui. The book’s preface begins in 2005 at the Lyndale Park Peace Garden in Minneapolis, where the people there were commemorating the end of World War II. The author of this book, Caren Stelson, was among those in attendance when she saw Sachiko Yasui give her speech on her life. Stelson was “motionless, listening to Sachiko tell her story about having survived the bombing of Nagasaki” and promised to write her story. Five years later, she finally got an audience with Sachiko and gained an approval to tell her story, only if Stelson “could look into my eyes.”
Sachiko’s story began a few days before the bombing of Nagasaki. She was with her family, interacting with her parents and her siblings as they tried to live a normal life under the veil of World War II. As Sachiko was only six years old, she only had a vague understanding of what was happening around her. On August 9th, 1945, it was another ordinary day for Sachiko, as she was making mud balls and playing house with her friends. Suddenly everything changed when the atomic bomb hit Nagasaki, throwing her life and everyone she knew into a spiral of despair and survival.
Stelson adds another element to her book by showing various photos throughout the book. For instance, there are a lot of photos of Sachiko and her family during the various stages of her life. Most of them are in black and white, adding an artistic element to the book. There are also other photos of the devastation and the bleak aftermath of the atomic bomb. In addition to telling Sachiko’s story, Stelson weaves in extensive notes about the context of the situation. For example, the book has a section dedicated to the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is an inspirational story that everyone should read. It weaves a narrative that is both gruesome, but at the same time, evokes inspiration and hope. It tells of the atrocities of the past and how we, as humanity, can learn from our mistakes and move forward. Like when Ichiro, Sachiko’s brother, tells her to “take care of everyone,” it gives her the strength to bear the atrocities and move on. Then, after learning to move on, Sachiko’s father tells her to “use your wonderful life to help people in the world.” This book reminds us that we also must not brood on the past and use our wonderful lives to make the world a better place.