A Path to Reconciliation, 70 Years after Hiroshima

A Path to Reconciliation, 70 Years after Hiroshima

Posted on October 27 by David A. Poulsen in Teens
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When people ask me how I came to write a novel — And Then the Sky Exploded — about the bomb that was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, and the devastation that followed,  I have to be honest and admit I’m not really sure.

I suppose there were a couple of things at play. I’ve always been fascinated by the big moments in human history, particularly those events that impacted large numbers of people, some actively involved, some unwilling participants. In my YA writing, I want to put my teen protagonists into situations where they are forced to decide how they are going to feel about and interpret those moments in our history.

"The other factor in my writing this novel was my falling in love with Japan and its people..."

 

I had, for example, previously written about a teenager who accompanies his dad to the jungles of Vietnam where the ‘old man’ fought…and about high school students forced to make a decision about a favourite teacher who is a holocaust denier. In fact, my first writing success, a short story, The Welcomin’, which won the Alberta Culture Short Story Writing Competition, was a look at a young boy faced with discovering the reality of war when his small-town boyhood (hockey) heroes return home after the devastation of the Battle of Dieppe in World War Two.

The other factor in my writing this novel was my falling in love with Japan and its people during a trip I made to that country (and South Korea) after my novel, Numbers, received Japan’s Sakura (Readers Choice) Award in 2011. I learned during that trip that most Japanese students make the trek to Hiroshima to learn about the bomb that was dropped on that city on August 6, 1945, and the horror that ensued—death for almost one hundred thousand and terrible injuries, disfigurement and illness (radiation caused disease) for as many more.

The question was — what could I write, seventy years after the event, that could possibly have any meaning or add to the countless hours of discussions and volumes that have already been generated on the subject. And how would I make whatever I wrote relevant to a generation of readers, many of whom have never heard of the Manhattan Project, the Enola Gay (the airplane that dropped the bomb), or Little Boy (the code name for the bomb itself)?

When I decided that my character, Christian Larkin, was to learn that his beloved great-grandfather had actually been one of the Manhattan Project scientists who developed the bombs dropped on Hiroshima — and later, Nagasaki — and that Christian, ashamed of the man he once was so proud of, has this idea that he wants to somehow to make amends, I thought my problems were over.

I was wrong.

Christian, in fact, encountered the same problem that I was having in writing the book. What could one teenager possibly do, after all this time, that could possibly matter?

He didn’t know the answer to that question and, for a long time, neither did I. It wasn’t until a conversation I had with Pastor Lee Spice, (longtime friend, colleague and crime novel buddy — it is she to whom I dedicated the novel) that I found a path to telling the story I wanted to tell. Lee’s father was a residential school survivor.

Lee was one of those who testified at the residential school reconciliation hearings that have taken place in recent years. And it was her assertion that for the victims, the most important thing was that, for the first time, people listened, they believed and they cared. That conversation and Lee’s sharing that reality gave me an idea as to how I might tell this story in a way that might resonate with readers, younger and older, Japanese and North American.

I hope I have been able to do that.

David A. Poulsen

Posted by KathrynB on October 30, 2014
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David A. Poulsen

David A. Poulsen has been a teacher, actor, cowboy, high school football coach, and — most of all — a writer. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Serpents Rising and Dead Air, the first two books in the Cullen and Cobb Mystery series. He lives on a ranch in the Alberta foothills near Calgary.