A date with history
What: Hiroshima Library events with Brandon Shimoda
Where: Bruna Press + Archive, 221 Prospect St.
WHEN: Aug. 2-8 (the library can be visited through September)
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Brandon Shimoda was 10 years old the first time he visited the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
It was 1988—the same year his parents gifted him with a copy of Keiji Nakazawa’s graphic novel, I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, A Survivor’s True Story—and the journey from America to his ancestral homeland would influence the course of his life.
For Shimoda, the horrific events of the summer of 1945 have become personal. It was one thing to know that the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9 of that year killed more than 225,000 people, but to see the destruction firsthand and meet survivors of the catastrophic act of war have forever changed his worldview.
In Shimoda’s new book, The Grave on the Wall, he talks about being present at the Memorial Museum in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 2011. Each testimonial he heard that day, he notes, began with the teller having stressed that before the B-29 Superfortress dubbed Little Boy dropped a uranium bomb on the city and annihilated 80,000 people in less than a second, the skies were clear and blue.
“Blue sky, clear, not because these are details of a day like any other, but because they were the final details,” he writes. Not long afterward, he tells the story of Keiko, who was 8 years old at the time of the bombing.
“She spoke the longest,” Shimoda continues. “Her story began with a refusal. People were dying all around her—burning, thirsty, in need of water. She gave them water from the family well. They drank the water, vomited, died. She knew she did not kill them, but felt it was me! It was easier for Keiko to take responsibility for their deaths, to implicate herself in the nightmare, than to try to explain what she could not. Her story began when she decided she was never going to tell anyone. She called it her invisible scar.”
When the poet, editor and archivist comes to Bellingham this week to host his first presentation of the Hiroshima Library and read from The Grave on the Wall at Bruna Press + Archive, he’ll be doing so with the aim not only to commemorate the bombings from 74 years ago, but also to engage the public in ways that may not always be comfortable as they confront the unfathomable events of 1945.
In addition to visiting the Hiroshima Library—a collection of books on the bombings and their ongoing afterlives—activities happening Aug. 2-8 at Bruna and beyond will include an opening during Art Walk, a talk with Dr. Kirsten Emiko McAllister from Simon Fraser University on the challenges of researching historical sites of persecution, a candle lighting and communal remembrance of the victims of Hiroshima, a film screening of the documentary Black Rain, and a talk and book launch for The Grave on the Wall.
During the latter event on Aug. 6, Shimoda will also lead a tour of the Hiroshima Library, which will be in residence at Bruna through September. If you’re looking for more insight into why the author believes self-education and collective reflection are important when it comes to remembering the end of World War II, make plans to attend. Shimoda’s haunting imagery is sure to open your eyes.
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