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Free Study Guide-Hiroshima by John Hersey-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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CHAPTER FIVE: The Aftermath


This chapter narrates the six main characters’ lives as "hibakusha," or atom bomb victims, from one year after the bomb to forty years after the bomb. It also includes side narrations of how the larger Hiroshima community rebuilt itself and how it responded over time to being the first city to be attacked with a nuclear weapon.

Mrs. Nakamura experienced a difficult first decade after the bombing. She began to do sewing work with her husband’s sewing machine, but soon fell ill and was forced to sell it to pay her doctor’s bill. She continued to suffer from a common version of long-term A-bomb sickness, involving weakness, exhaustion, problem digestion, and a feeling of doom. For this reason, she was never able to work for more than two or three days without requiring rest, and worked as much as she could doing odd jobs such as delivering bread, selling fish door-to- door, and collecting newspaper dues. She shared the feelings of many that her hardships were her fate, and was too busy to think about the morality of the bomb. There was no compensation or assistance from the government for Hiroshima survivors for twelve years, which added to her hardships. This was partly because the Japanese government hesitated to express responsibility for a disaster caused by the Americans.

Six years after the bombing, Mrs. Nakamura had the good fortune to move to a bigger house built by a do-good American doctor. Her children were developing normally, spared from common complications of bomb victims. She soon found work at a factory wrapping mothballs, owned by a compassionate man who did not discriminate against sickly bomb survivors. Her core of cheerfulness sustained her and won her friends, and she gradually moved on from the trauma of the bombing. She avoided the anti-nuclear and pro-survivors agitators, feeling they were too political, and even neglected to pick up her medical benefits card for a few years after it became available.

Her children all found employment and married, and her son Toshio moved into an addition to her house and began supporting her financially.

At age 55, Mrs. Nakamura retired from her factory job and gradually her life got easier. She was supported by Toshio, a pension from the factory, a war widow’s pension, and a living allowance for Hiroshima survivors that increased over the years. She spent time embroidering gifts and dancing in groups to Japanese folk music. She participated in the city’s flower festival forty years after the bombing, and was able to focus on the gaiety of the festival and feel the atom bomb tragedy far behind her. She suddenly felt weak, however, and was taken to the hospital. She wanted to go home and was released right away.

Dr. Sasaki spent the rest of his years trying to create distance between his new life and his horrible memories of the first few days after the bombing. In the first few years after the disaster, he worked on his doctoral dissertation, and enjoyed married life. Because of his family’s wealth, he was able to choose a good wife, and pursued the woman whose father turned him down initially. Dr. Sasaki worked primarily on hibakusha’s keloid scars at the Red Cross Hospital, until after six years he put his memories behind him and opened a private clinic in his father’s town, outside Hiroshima. His practice grew through his hard work and ambition, but he worked nine-and-a-half-hour days, six days a week.

Meanwhile, doctors treating hibakusha began to discover more serious long-term consequences for those exposed to the atom bomb. All kinds of cancers occurred more frequently in hibakusha, and many developed cararacts. Children often grew up stunted, and people suffered from a whole host of other minor ailments. Yet Dr. Sasaki was largely oblivious to all these developments, since he treated few hibakusha in his country clinic. It was when he traveled to Yokohama for further training in anesthesia that he came face to face with his own vulnerabilities as an A-bomb survivor.

The head doctor of the Yokohama hospital was himself a hibakusha, and recommended that Dr. Sasaki undergo a complete examination while he was there. Discovering a shadow in his left lung, doctors ended up removing the whole lung in surgery. Due to complications, Dr. Sasaki almost died. This experience changed his outlook on life and he resolved to treat his patients more compassionately and to spend more time with his wife and four children. When his wife died of breast cancer a few years later, he threw himself back into work, building a larger clinic to serve senior citizens, and a luxurious bathhouse for their enjoyment nearby. He grew to be one of the most wealthy men in all of Hiroshima prefecture.

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