Saturday, July 20, 2013

Barefoot Gen : A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa

In keeping with my goal of reading classic comics, I figured it was time to read Barefoot Gen and cringe every 2 pages at the horrific reality that was 1940's Japan. Barefoot Gen is an autobiographical account of a young boy named Gen and his large, impoverished family. It details the tremendous injustices inflicted on the people of Japan during the war and the ultimate destruction and bombing of Hiroshima.

Gen and his family struggle not to go hungry as officials and ring leaders snatch every ounce of nourishment for the military (and most likely themselves). There is a harrowing scene where sweet potatoes are the cause of much celebration. Gen and his brother Shinji, run behind their father's cart of sweet potatoes singing and jumping at the fact that they will not starve this month. Unfortunately a police officer confiscates the vegetables, but not without violence. There is a lot of abuse in this book. The parents regularly hit their children. Teachers, police, and other people in positions of authority regularly hit, or humiliate this children. It is known in the beginning that Gen's father opposes the war and the whole neighborhood knows it. The entire family is called traitor and tormented by their neighbors. It doesn't keep Gen down however, and his whole family works together to prevail over the harsh circumstances.

Although most people report that they end up crying while reading Barefoot Gen, I'd like to report that I was too disturbed to cry. The violence, abuse and horrors inflicted on the people of Japan during the war is told in such frank honesty that I just feel plain disturbed. Despite the parts that shook me, I found pieces that were completely heartwarming. Gen and Shinji try their best to help out their family. They look out for each other and the author creates huge family displays of affection where the parents hug the children and thanking them for being so wonderful.

Maybe the book is difficult to swallow. A lot of the violence directed at the children is drawn in a comedic fashion. Almost as if you are watching bugs bunny or reading one of Osamu Tezuka's comedies. In the back of your mind however, you know that this was really happening and it's certainly not funny. So i that right, prepare to be shocked and bothered.

There are 10 books in the series and this is only the first. I can only imagine what other horrors Gen faces down the road.  This volume ends with the bombing of Hiroshima which I had read some years ago online. Read it...you cannot help but be moved.