Hope in Devastation

Barefoot Gen

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author: Keiji Nakazawa

My Mum (thanks 🙂 sent me all four of the Barefoot Gen series (I’m still not sure whether there are four or ten in total). I read the first two last year: Jane got them out of the library. The third and fourth succumbed over the weekend. They’re 250 pages each. Usually one of those would take me two months. I did these in a sitting (well lying) each. They are graphic novels. Manga. Comics.

Complete with “pow!” and “wap!” and salt-shaker-shaped lumps on people’s heads, these books are peppered with graphic violence. Characters are gullible so that if something works for one, the others will all try it. The scenes (frames?) are all melodramatic, whether they are of catastrophe, intrigue or poignancy, or the sun rising, setting or just shining.

The effect is a rocking ride. I literally could not put them down until I’d finished them. It was merciful that they were graphic novels or I would have had people kicking down the door.

Of course, Barefoot Gen depicts the holocaust in Hiroshima. It’s from the point of view of a small family, some of whom miraculously survive. In particular, Gen, a boy is plucky and resourceful. He can equally be charming or savagely vindictive. What he values the most, tho is hope and respect. He drops everything to help people, even if it is just to treat them as human. He sees red at injustice. Through a world devastated by violence, or wearied into indifference, Gen weaves a thread of love.

I think there are only four volumes in the series but if you run out, you could go for the equally gripping MAUS books by Art Spiegelman (he writes the preface in one of the Gen books).

Tags: barefoot gen hiroshima manga