A review by bhavani
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story, by Caren Stelson


Have you watched Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies? It's the story of a pair of siblings caught in the destruction caused by World War II. If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you do. If you're like me, you can't bear to watch it again. Reading Sachiko is like rewatching Grave of the Fireflies, but even more heartwrenching because it's a true story.

Sachiko Yasui was a 6-year old on the morning of August 9, 1945, when the Fat Man nuclear bomb detonates over her town. It follows her story to the present day, with the effects of the bombing reverberating through the days, months, years, and decades that came after.

We've all heard the official story in one form or another; Japan's refusal to accept an unconditional surrender following its allies' defeat; the political justifications for dropping the bombs. This information is essential but it isn't the full story. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned, there is danger in the single story. Until recently, I've rarely read or heard about the personal experiences of people living in Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the time. This book fills that void, and it does so with grace and compassion.

In Sachiko, we find a real-life Scout Finch, viewing the destruction and loss around her with clear-eyed innocence. A child who grows up to be an advocate for peace and universal love.

Caren Stelson did a wonderful job of writing Sachiko’s story. She gives details to supplement the tale and set the stage wherever necessary, but refrains from moralizing anyone’s actions. She leaves that to the reader. And this reader can’t help but wonder if Harry Truman’s decisions weren’t driven by revenge for Pearl Harbor and racism against the Japanese.

Whatever lesson or knowledge you may take away from this book, I think it’s fair to say that Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is a vital addition to first-person accounts of WWII, especially amid rising nationalism worldwide. As more of these witnesses pass on, there is a sense of urgency in telling their stories to ensure that future generations do not forget and repeat the same mistakes. I think this book should be required reading in schools everywhere.

P.S.: Keep a handkerchief next to you when reading this book. Trust me, you’ll need it.