Eyewitness to an atomic apocalypse
On a clear midsummer morning, Toyofumi Ogura was walking home along a dusty road when he saw a huge flash of light. "Off to my right, the sky split open over the city of Hiroshima. I instinctively flung myself facedown upon the ground. I lay there without moving. Then I raised my head and looked up over the city." It was August 6, 1945, and neither Ogura nor most other residents of the Japanese city understood what had just happened. Only in the days to come would they learn that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb over the heart of Hiroshima, making it the first city in the world to be obliterated by a nuclear weapon.
Ogura's gripping account of the bombing and its aftermath is recounted in Letters from the End of the World, newly released in paperback by Kodansha, a publisher that specializes in English language books on Japanese culture. Ogura's haunting story is told in the form of letters to his wife, Fumiyo, who was standing outside a downtown department store when the bomb exploded. She died two weeks later of radiation sickness, and her grieving husband coped by writing letters that described the horrific events he witnessed. A professor at Hiroshima University, Ogura manages to convey the confusion, shock and terror of the time in a style that ranges from matter-of-fact to beautifully lyrical. His letters, written in the months just after the bombing and first published in Japan in 1948, have lost none of their immediacy or power in the ensuing five decades.
Read from the perspective of our own troubled times, Letters from the End of the World offers disturbing evidence of the horrors of warfare and a poignant portrait of man's capacity to endure.