Gen's father is a craftsman in Hiroshima who makes wooden sandles to try to feed his five children and his pregnant wife. He is labelled a traitor by his neighbors because he is opposed to the war. We see the cruelties and hardships of their daily lives through the eyes of young Gen who can't understand why he and his family are despised. The close family values of his home life are in sharp contrast to the rabid patriotic chauvenism of his community. This volume ends with the events of August 6, the day of the atomic bomb. The story of how Gen survives is told in the subsequent volumes.
The work has been well translated from the Japanese original: Hadashi no Gen. It was originally published in serial form in 1972 and 1973 in Shukan Shonen Jampu, the largest weekly comic magazine in Japan, with a circulation of over two million. The drawings are all in black and white. This US edition was published as part of a movement to translate the book into other languages and spread around the world its message of the threat of nuclear war. It is a wonderful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the horrors of nuclear war. There are a few introductory essays at the front of the book and a publisher's note at the end that help to put this book into perspective. It is a powerful and tragic story that I highly recommend for anyone interested in the topic.
It is not an "oh, woe is me" tale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rather a sharp and critical statement about both nuclear war and the Japanese expansionist empire in the first part of this century. Packed with fine details of Japanese life which are still obvious today, simple illustrations and direct text hold nothing back. What many readers may find awkward humour rattled with panic is scattered through the story, but that is a very accurate depiction of the Japanese social response mechanism to impossible situations.
The book is also a unique pop-culture portrayal of Japanese attitudes to 'gaijin', or foreigners living in Japan at the time, particularly Korean. Koreans were left without assistance by Japanese who considered them third class, and this book is unique to include that aspect in a text for youth. It is also sharply critical of an Empire's treatment of her people, while this empire still shadows Japanese life today. A truly remarkable book which should find a space on the shelves of youth and community libraries everywhere.
The simple language and graphics also make this book an excellent source for ESL readers.
Do yourself and your teenagers a favour and find copies of Barefoot Gen and the other books by Nakazawa which have been translated in this series (search Amazon.com for "The Day After", "Out of the Ashes" and others), then share them.
Nothing is held back. There is farting, bloody bowel movements, the baring of nipple to suckle an infant, maggots crawling through ravaged flesh, and burning corpses popping out of coffins to curl back like twigs. It's all raw and wide-open here.
But like all the greatest manga stories ever drawn and written, you will be hopelessly riveted all the way to the end as well as wanting to read it again and again to relive even the ugliest scenes ever to unfold on paper. For one of the most infamous pieces of Japanese history has been burned forever on the pages to be told and retold to the future generations yet to come. If they have strong hearts and stomaches for such a moving drama that the artist himself had unfortunately witnessed with his own young eyes.
But the grim story isn't without humor or some warmth that the heroic family shares and what's more, the characters are also well-drawn in the classic 1970s style with those bright, shining eyes, expressive mouths, and cute, chiseled noses.
In spite of all those masterful elements, the saddest of all true-to-life manga tales got to me so much that I don't know if I will ever own the series, let alone watch the anime, which I actually refused to see in the first place!