December 26, 2009

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Barefoot Gen Volume 3

Written by Kiji Nakazawa
Illustrated by Kiji Nakazawa
Last Gasp

Picking this one back up after having a miserable time getting the third volume in from the library (I finally just had to get it off the shelf).

Gen, his mother, and his newborn sister are still trying to survive, wondering if anyone else managed to stay alive in the aftermath of what they're still calling a flash bomb. Can they dare to hope? Gen must know the truth before they move on, in a touching moment that is at the same time horrifying.

Unable to stay near Hiroshima, they move on to the house of a childhood friend. But friendship means nothing now, and they are treated badly. As Gen and his mother dodge accusations, insults, and beatings, they must keep trying to live. It's a hard thing to do for any survivor, as Gen learns when he takes a job caring for one of the burn victims.

In this volume, Gen's desire to live trumps all other problems and it's his unbreakable will that shines through, giving this volume a sense of hope that was missing in the first two parts of this story. Given how horrible things are, I wonder how long this can last, but the story even ends on an uplifting note for the first time.

As with the other parts of the story, Nakazawa plots the story to allow Gen to see all that happened to the survivors of the nuclear blasts. This time around, it's the reluctance of those unaffected to help their fellow man, the way even family members deserted those who needed them, the easy and common accusations of theft, and the general lack of caring that is so striking against the good nature of Gen and his mother.

There are quite a few uncomfortable scenes, though less sheer horror as Gen and his mother find a tenuous home in a shack on their friend's property. The only really major scene of gore is when Gen helps the burn victim, who is plagued by maggots and filth that his family refuses to clean for fear of catching the bomb's disease. However, that's not nearly as bad as the thought that a man could refuse to care for his own brother.

Most of this volume is spent showing the survival instinct of the characters. Right or wrong, they are doing what they feel is best to stay alive. Gen learns that pride is not worth much if it means dying and watches as his mother gives up her dignity to keep on fighting, just as he must do with the burn victim. It's fairly easy for me to sit here and type judgment on those who refused to help their fellow man--but how would I react? I can only hope that I'll never know.

Barefoot Gen is a difficult series to take in, but the messages it contains are so powerful that I think everyone should read it. That goes double for all those who want to bring fire down upon those who disagree with them politically. The horrors of war are stark and last for generations. Nakazawa shows that lesson on every page. At the end of this volume, the people are only just starting to get some sense of stability back into their lives, and I fear that stability won't last. One thing is for sure--the horrors I see in this series will stay with me for a long time.