Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima

Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman
This harrowing story of Hiroshima was one of the original Japanese manga series. New and unabridged, this is an all-new translation of the author's first-person experiences of Hiroshima and its aftermath, is a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people. Its emotions and experiences speak to children and adults everywhere. Volume one of this ten-part series details the events leading up to and immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


Reviewed: 2019-01-12
Reviewed: 2017-03-07
Every now and then I come across a book that I wish was required reading when I was in high school; in my estimation Barefoot Gen: Vol 1 is one of those books. Barefoot Gen is the first hand account of the author's, Keiji Nakazawa, experiences of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Nakazawa is certainly a competent illustrator, but more importantly it's the story he tells through his panels that makes the this personal re-telling of history so compelling. Most of the first volume takes place well before the bomb is dropped, setting the stage for the ultimate tragedy. However, the small unjustices of Gen's family in the days prior to the bombing amount to a tragedy all their own. Gens father is outspoken about his opposition to the war; he sees the famine its brought, the lives it takes and the values it twists, such as the group suicides who seek honor in taking their lives rather than face capture. Nakazawa looks down upon this so-called honor, instead focusing directly on the daily hardships in wartime and the futility of hope and superstitions. Nakazawa witnessed the blind loyalty of Japanese citizens to the Emperor, endured the stigma of being one of the few families opposed to the war in his village, saw the flesh dripping off the bodies of those victims caught directly in the bombs blast. What he puts on the illustrated page is not necessarily realistic, but it is haunting and terrible all the same. Even mixing the over-the-top comical elements (silly and strange dialogue; overt use of violence when characters disagree; even fart jokes) that is so common with Manga. I wouldn't say the Manga elements are seamlessly integrated into the story, but the story simply wouldn't be the same without them. Nakazawa, through Gens family, offers one of the greatest explorations of the concept of humanity ever put in print. Loyalty and sacrifice for an ideal mean nothing when fellow neighbors are in immediate need of help. Gens town turns on his family once theyre branded as traitors, but its those who still offer them food and support that stand out in the story. I think this series will remain in my mind for a long time to come.
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