Black rain

by Masuji Ibuse

Other authorsJohn Bester (Translator)
Hardcover, 1969



Call number



Tokyo: Kodansha, 1969.

User reviews

LibraryThing member anamuk
I was reading a lot of post apocalypse fiction, but nothing prepared be for the sheer horror of this novel.

Whilst black rain is fiction, most of that fiction is in framing the effects of the bomb and its legacy. Its the story of an ordinary family, living & working in & around Hiroshima toward the end of WWII. It starts out after the war as the couple are trying to find a marriage for their adopted daughter. People are wary since she is a bomb survivor, so Shigematsu decides to tell everything, so people will know what happend. Most of the book takes the form of transcription from Shigematsu's "bomb diary", with interruptions dealing with how he, his family & several friends deal with being survivors.

The transcripts are bleak in the extreme, yet Ibuse manages to embed poetic images, and the general day to day struggle of ordinary people in them. I don't doubt I'm going to be seeing some of the pictures they paint for quite some time.

This is a book that really ought to be required reading, and whilst the writing is excellent, its a hard read, mainly due to the subject.
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LibraryThing member stretch
Black Rain is set several years after WWII and is told through the main narrator Shigematsu Shizuma as he and a small group of local survivors, including his family, struggle with the stigma and mysterious symptoms of radiation sickness. Which the only cure seems to be that of the common cold and a lot rest; it's that last part that seems to be so upsetting to Japanese sensibility. The narrative revolves around Shigematsu Shizuma’s niece, Yasuko, who is not yet married, and rumors that she was hit by poisonous black rain after the Hiroshima bombing, and is now suffering from radiation sickness, lower her chances of finding someone. When someone makes inquires about her, her uncle decides to copy his diary of the days after the bombing so that he can set the record straight about what the family went through and to preserve a first hand account of the immediate aftermath for a local school.

The real power of this narrative comes from narrow focus of these one family as they struggle through the immediate aftermath and fallout. Black Rain is not about the political or social implications of nuclear warfare. Rather, it’s about its everyday consequences and impacts of war on the lives of those who lived it. Through the diary entries we get a clear picture of the hardships rationing, the stress of air raids or the lack of air raids, the complications of black market dealings, and the bureaucracy of life under army rule. Then there was the flash that changed it all for the people of Hiroshima. The Diary entries detail the bombing from several perspectives, describing the deaths and injuries of the victims in all their gory detail. Some of descriptions are extremely disturbing. But what really stands out is the chaos and confusion that prevails the situation throughout the first week. Victims not knowing were to seek safety from the flames; not knowing how to deal with the dead and dieing; the continued frustration of dealing with a never-ending bureaucracy to get help and needed supplies; and finally the surreal reaction to the final surrender. The immense suffering of and udder lack of humanity that saturates the whole situation (I'm including the victims here as well) is enough to cause me to question what the hell is wrong with the species.

Black Rain is a very moving book, written in a very quiet, restrained tone. The lack emotions stands in stark contrast to that of western writers. The casual observations that make up much of the diary entries are what make this fictional biography so disturbing. Anger or self-pity would detract from understanding the totality of this tragedy. Black Rain is one of those books that should be required reading in history class covering the war with Japan. The images from this book will linger in my mind for a long time to come.
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LibraryThing member Michael.Rimmer
The narrator of the story, Shigematsu Shizuma, is the uncle of a young woman in his care who, it is rumoured in the viallge, has been affected by the radioactive "black rain" which fell on Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. In order to convince her latest suitor that she is not suffering radiation poisoning, he writes his account of the bombing and the effects he saw in others and in himself.

The account is drawn largely from Shizuma's journal oft he war years, but also from that of his niece, Yasuko, and a couple of other people whose paths crossed with his.

There is very little in the way of recrimination against the American's who dropped the bomb, Ibuse is almost completely concerned with the immediate experience of those caught up in the horror of nuclear warfare. The effect is to humanise an event of global significance, bringing it within the scope of personal understanding. A work of great compassion and empathy.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Wow! This is such a powerful novel in the same way that [All Quiet On the Western Front] was for me. Both were books about war told from the side that for me would be the "enemy", but in reality became my own side as that was the point of view from which the story was written. Neither [All Quiet on the Western Front] nor [Black Rain] were politicized in any manner other than the mention of the "enemy", but rather each novel made a point about war in general.

[Black Rain] is about the atomic bomb being dropped at Hiroshima, Japan. In this story, Shigematsu and his niece Yasuka work in a factory which manufactures military clothing. His manager sends him out on a fruitless search for coal. Shigematsu and his wife worry that their niece Yasuka, who lives with them, might not be marriageable if she contracts radiation sickness. Of course, at the time that the bomb was dropped, no one living in Japan had any idea what an atomic bomb or radiation sickness was.

The horror of this novel is the inhumanity of it all. For page after page, the reader is left with the ruins, the pain, the illness, and the atomic bomb's devastating aftermath. There is no respite from any of this throughout the entire novel. I felt as if I had to read through this book very slowly just to understand the cost and effects of war on individuals and families, politics aside. It's not a pretty picture and leaves me with little faith in humanity although the story is extremely well done with most of its details having been gleaned from actual interviews and diaries of survivors of the Hiroshima nightmare.

Don't be afraid to pick up this book. It's necessary to understand what can happen in a world unhinged.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Shortly after the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, a black rain fell from the sky that stained everything that it touched. Black Rain is a beautifully written novel exploring the effects not only of the bombing and the subsequent radiation sickness, but also of the privations and sacrifices of war and the fear of defeat. Ibuse is a wonderful writer, capable of exploring these topics without either looking away from or reveling in the horror.

The narrator of the novel is Shigematsu Shizuma, a mid-level factory manager, husband, and guardian of his niece, Yasuko, who lives with them. At the time the story begins, Shigematsu is worried whether they will be able to find a husband for Yasuko because a rumor is circulating that she was in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. In an effort to belie the rumor, Shigematsu begins copying out his journal of the days in August that detail what he and his family were doing. He plans to lend one copy to the marriage go-between and donate the other to the school collecting firsthand accounts. To support his narrative, Shigematsu asks his wife to write down her thoughts and also includes journal excerpts from two other survivors. The only voice not heard in the novel is Yasuko's.

When Shigematsu is not copying out his journal (and thus relaying to us, the reader, his story), he is with his two friends planning an elaborate carp raising endeavor. The author's ability to switch from the death and misery of the bombing to the everyday activities and concerns of the survivors is one of the things that saves the book from being overwhelmingly depressing. In addition, the way in which the story switches from the "present", nearly a year after the bombing, to the recorded past in his journal keeps the reader from experiencing everything firsthand. We know that the family survives and that in a way creates an emotional buffer which a straight narrative would not do.

Black Rain is an amazing novel as much for what it isn't as for what it is. It isn't maudlin although it is sensitive, it isn't horrific although it looks at horror unflinchingly, and it isn't dismissive when it includes everyday detail. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ErstwhileEditor
This is an excellent book. Although it is fiction, it is in total agreement with the nonfiction accounts I have read about the bombing of Hiroshima.
LibraryThing member Strider66
After going to the a-bomb museum in Hiroshima, I can say that this book is remarkably acurate in its descriptions of what happened on Aug 6, 1945. The book also describes war conditions before the bomb. It's a horrifying view of what war is really like.
LibraryThing member Brasidas
This novel is a sensitive handling of eyewitness accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It starts with the main character, Shigematsu, pondering the future of his niece Yasuko's marriage prospects. There is a persistent rumor that Yasuko was in Hiroshima City on the day of the bombing and thus suffered radiation exposure. This is not true. Shigematsu, frustrated, as a means of correcting the inaccuracy, suggests a perusal of Yasuko's diary for Aug. 6, 1945, the day of the bombing, and the days thereafter. It is through this device that the story of Hiroshima's terrible ordeal is told. The suffering of the people seems unfathomable. The bean counter's trade is opprobrious here but what other measure shall we use? The number killed varies, but a mid-range estimate is well over 100,000 within 24 hours of the air raid. That does not include those that suffered with radiation sickness for years afterward. One simply cannot imagine the extent of such suffering. Blackened figures face down in the street without their clothes, melted into the asphalt. (An image I'm convinced Cormac McCarthy borrows for THE ROAD.) At one point, Ibuse says "In olden times, people used to say that in an area badly ravaged by war it took a century to repair the moral damage done to the inhabitants...."… (more)
LibraryThing member palaverofbirds
I'll say this much: there's no plot involving the niece in this book. It's a sidenote to the story of a city and of a man. Why the back of the book says this is about a woman's radiation sickness is frightfully unclear (did they read the book?)

That doesn't factor into my rating. I just found it odd.… (more)
LibraryThing member vaellus
A novel about the immediate and long-term tragedy of Hiroshima and its people after the atomic bomb. No politics, just the human cost recounted matter-of-factly.

Original publication date

1965 (original Japanese)


0553249886 / 9780553249880

Call number



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