The precious jewel of life.
I wasn’t planning on reading The Bells of Nagasaki, by Takashi Nagai, for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature reading challenge, but I found it on the shelf at the library and decided it was an important book to read. It is a painfully honest eyewitness account of the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. Takashi Nagai was a medical doctor who survived the initial blast and then did everything he could to help the injured and dying around him, despite being gravely wounded himself.
He tells this story from a number of different angles. First, he describes his own experience in survival that day. The destruction around him was unfathomable, and the human loss excruciating. Then, as a scientist, he tried to understand the power and physics of the bomb, which he described in four parts: the enormous power, what happened to the elementary particles, the heat, and the electromagnetic waves. His explanations were both clear and terribly sobering. As a medical doctor, he then wanted us to understand the atomic bomb wounds, which was the hardest part for me to read. He also gave a day-by-day account of the Relief Center work he organized with his surviving colleagues from the hospital.
His explanations of “the stages of reconstruction” of Nagasaki were very interesting. During the first month after the bomb, people lived in dugouts and underground shelters. Then, between the 2nd and 4th months, huts were built. By December of that year, carpenters from other cities had arrived to help build provisional houses, thankfully sheltering people from the cold winter winds. Slowly, the people of Nagasaki began to rebuild their lives: “Little by little, people are putting things in order and rebuilding their homes. Though it may not be apparent to the eye, the atomic desert is gradually sending forth new shoots of life.”
Dr. Nagai lost his beloved wife in the blast. He fought his own battle with leukemia before his death, trying desperately to postpone the day when his two children would become orphans. He was a deeply religious man, a devoted father, and a compassionate healer and teacher. During the last years of his life, when he was confined to bed due to the ravages of his atomic bomb disease, he wrote many books, poems, and papers in the spirit of peace. His writings, a powerful plea for peace in this atomic age, touched the hearts of many people around the world. He died in 1951.