Last Sunday I while in Barnes & Noble I browsed through a copy of Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. I read about three, maybe four pages then put it back before I started hissing. The writing struck me as more a historical dramatization than a serious scholarly work -- and was clearly written by someone who was not that familiar with Japan. (Read through an exerpt and I think you'll see what I'm talking about on the dramatization part.) I'm a bit of a snob, and I dislike reading books on Japan written by people who don't have a lot of familiarity with Japan. And I think the atomic bombings are dramatic enough without having to read a long story that clearly has to be fictional about the last minutes for someone who was standing almost directly beneath the bomb went it went off. (Come to think of it, that's probably what made me raise a skeptical eyebrow at the work in the first place -- how exactly are we to know what someone who was incinerated by the bomb was doing just before it went off? How am I supposed to tell when the dramatization ends and the factual reporting begins?)
A couple of days later Yahoo's news pops up with this: Publisher Henry Holt & Co. today announced the withdrawal of the book "The Last Train From Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back" by Charles Pellegrino. Parts of the book, which had received strong positive attention from NPR, the New York Times and other media outlets, have come under question." It's come to light that at least one of the major sources for the book was not involved with the bombings as he claimed. It sounds like one of the other people listed in the book is likely to have been completely fictional as well. And even the author's credentials are under question, as he claims to have a PhD that the issuing institution says they did not grant. Under pressure from all the people crying "what happened to fact-checking?" the publishers have suspended publication.
I am obscurely pleased, for some reason, to hear the book's credibility called into question. I'm not sure exactly why. I think it's largely that I dislike books that claim to be serious research books containing dramatizations. I like historical fiction, but I like it to be clear that it is fiction.
Though looking at it now, I think most of my satisfaction derives from a dislike of the writer's style. I mean... "By the time the sound of the explosion reached her son Nenkai two kilometers away, all the substance of his mother's body, including blood-derived iron and calcium-enriched glass, would be ascending toward the stratosphere to become part of the strange radioactive thunderstorms that were to chase after Nenkai and the other survivors." ... Ew!? And... seriously? The thunderstorms are chasing this guy? Because now that they've been irradiated they've become sentient, like some strange evil cloud Godzilla monster, and are now haunting these poor survivors?
The sentence following that similarly draws out my inner snark demon, and is probably why I put the book down. (Since muttering snide comments in the middle of a bookstore is considered rude, and has been known to get people uninvited from the store.) "On the south side of town, about four city blocks beyond Mrs. Aoyama and the monks, Toshihiko Matsuda was about to leave his shadow on a wall in his mother's garden. Such a strange way to phrase things -- I mean, don't you just hate it when you leave your shadow a wall? So untidy, like throwing one's clothes on the floor.
I think I'll spare everyone from the mother of all run-on sentences, weighing in at -- I kid you not -- a whopping one-hundred and eleven words. Or... yeah. I think stopping here is probably kindest. (To me? To the author? To those reading this blog? Hard to say. Probably a mixture of all three.)
Yeah. I think I know now why I find it so satisfying to have the book come under public condemnation.
Oh, and this book? James Cameron has it optioned for a movie. Coming soon to a theater near you: Strange radioactive thunderstorms in 3-D!