Tuesday, 12 April 2011


from Random House

Last year I did some research on the social effects related to the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima during WWII for a course that brought together literary and public health discourses. I looked at Kamila Shamsie's, Burnt Shadows, a novel with an immense temporal and geographical scope that puts the fallout from the bombing of Hiroshima in dialogue with the aftermath of 9/11. Rather than focus on the intensely spectacular immediate effects of these events which have been readily and repeatedly represented by the media, Shamsie's novel takes up an important question: How can the kind of "slow violence" associated with the long term aftermath of these events be represented with the same kind of urgency created by images of burning towers and mushroom clouds? 

"Evening Glow Over Hiroshima"

The task is a difficult one but Shamsie's focus on Hiroko, a survivor whose body is forever inscribed upon by the bomb, successfully represents long term trauma by focusing on a personal narrative rather than on the big picture.

          Hiroko leans out the window, forgetting she is almost entirely naked. Something is wrong with her                     
          eyes. They see perfectly until the bottom of the slope and then they cannot see. Instead they are 
          inventing sights. Fire and smoke and, through the smoke, nothing.

Some of the most interesting research I undertook (and perhaps the most relevant to the current threat of radiation poisoning in Japan) deals with the hibakusha, "atom-bombed people" in Japanese. Many of the bomb survivors suffer from "atom bomb disease," an insidious affliction often accompanied by latent health problems. Along with this physical affliction, the hibakusha must also deal with social stigmatization which involves the marking of survivors as dangerous and contaminating peoples. This stigmatization is especially potent for hibakusha women, whose bodies have come to represent the suffering of the bombing and the potential threat of passing on this trauma to future generations. Part of the stigmatization of the hibakusha involves the perception that these bodies have been invaded by a nationally foreign presence, and as such, they pose a threat to the Japanese nation and Japanese culture. As events unfold in Japan, after the spectacular images of the tsunami recede and the threat of nuclear contamination intensifies, Japanese constructions of the hibakusha will likely resurface and, perhaps, undergo significant changes to account for this homegrown contamination.

1 comment:

  1. wow, that's very interesting Larissa. As a culture we are definitely drawn more towards the catastrophe than the long term damage, but maybe that will change now that nuclear disasters are relatively common, given how horrific they are.