Sunday, April 20, 2008

'Black Rain'

by Masuji Ibuse
Translated from the Japanese by John Bester
Fiction/WWII/Japan, first appeared in Japan in installments, 1965
Kodansha International, pb, 297 p.
Black Rain is centered around the story of a young woman who was caught in the radioactive "black rain" that fell after the bombing of Hiroshima. lbuse bases his tale on real-life diaries and interviews with victims of the holocaust; the result is a book that is free from sentimentality yet manages to reveal the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the atom bomb. The life of Yasuko, on whom the black rain fell, is changed forever by periodic bouts of radiation sickness and the suspicion that her future children, too, may be affected.

lbuse tempers the horror of his subject with the gentle humor for which he is famous. His sensitivity to the complex web of emotions in a traditional community torn asunder by this historical event has made Black Rain one of the most acclaimed treatments of the Hiroshima story.
I really don’t know what to say about this book. I can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it because of the subject matter, and at times it was very depressing to read. But I think Ibuse did a formidable job showing the result of the bomb on a purely human level. The story doesn’t concern itself with blame or politics or history or right and wrong. It is simply the story of some ordinary people coping in an extraordinary situation. The narrative is very matter-of-fact, never becoming melodramatic or overly emotional but this actually makes the detailed descriptions more powerful. There are many vivid, horrific scenes that have been burned into my mind. It’s certainly not for the squeamish. I’m very glad I read it though, and will not likely forget it or the images and artifacts we saw in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum anytime soon.

Review of Black Rain at BookSlut

My Rating: 4/5
(#14 for 2008, What's in a Name Challenge -Colour)

black rain
Section of a wall marked by the 'black rain'.*
Nothing stood on the scorched waste at the center of the city save the skeletons of a few buildings; apart from these, the only thing that met the eye was a litter of carbonized timbers and fragments of tile. The occasional black or white speck moving in the wilderness would be a human being – searching, as likely as not, for the remains of a relative or a friend. It was a scene of unremitting desolation. (p. 160)
Who cared, after all, which side won? The only important thing was to end it all soon as possible: rather an unjust peace, than a “just” war! (p. 161)
*photos taken inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Have you read and reviewed this title? Let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. Wow, this sounds like such a powerful book. I know what you mean about matter-of-fact descriptions being even more touching. I felt the same when I read Elie Wiesel's Night.

    I'll definitely be reading this one some day.

  2. You showed more photos that brought the horror home than I have seen befor, the black rain gives me chills...
    Thank-you Nat

  3. Sounds like a haunting read. That last quote gripped my heart. The things humans do to each other...

  4. Nymeth- And since it was based on real diaries and accounts it all came across as painfully real. I have 'Night' and really should read it one of these days.

    Madeleine- I didn't take too many inside the museum because the lighting was a bit dark. If you click on the photo, it'll take you to my new flickr account and there are a couple more there.

    Booklogged- It was a haunting read and there were many times I just had to stop reading for a while. So much horror.

  5. I was bloghopping and chanced upon this post. I read this book early this year for the Japanese Literature Challenge and it really moved me.

    Your pictures made me remember the difficulties encountered by Shigematsu after the bombing. Thank you for posting them as well.

  6. Lightheaded- Yes I can imagine Shigematsu trying to make his way through the rubble. There are many scenes that were described in the book that I just can't get out of my head. A pretty powerful story. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I recently saw a documentary about the bombings. I think it also was called Black Rain, but I could be mistaken. This sounds like a powerful read and worth checking out. Would it be okay if I linked to your review on the book reviews page at War Through the Generations?

    Diary of an Eccentric

  8. Anna - It was a powerful read, and all the more so because it was written in a very matter-of-fact style. And yes it's fine, if you'd like to add a link to my review over at the challenge blog.


Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I love hearing from you and I read every single one!

P.S. In an effort to eliminate spam, I moderate all comments, so there will most likely be a delay between when you submit the comment and when it appears on the post. Please let me know if you have any trouble leaving comments here, and you can also chat with me on Twitter, if you prefer. Happy Reading!