“Fallout” — the Horror and the Cover-up

“Fallout,” Lesley M.M. Blume’s non-fiction description of John Hersey and his essay, “Hiroshima,” is an all-too-vivid and, I’m quite sure, all-too-accurate account of how “Hiroshima” was created; of the dangers Hersey courageously faced because he dared to write and then publish the essay; of the roadblocks Hersey and his editors and publisher encountered because of the semi-forbidden subject matter; and, above all, of the horrors generated by war in general and the use of the first atomic bomb in particular.

The title of Blume’s work, “Fallout,” is itself a word of several relevant meanings: the fallout following the explosion over Hiroshima refers, in part, to the radioactive poisoning suffered by much of the city’s population and the resulting additions — deliberately hidden — to the original death-count caused by the bomb. The first estimate was 42,000. The count that was available to Hersey was 100,000. The count most often estimated today is about 280,000. Two hundred eighty-thousand dead innocent civilians. The entire U.S. government and military establishments, Truman to MacArthur to the government PR squads, perpetrated an expansive and complex cover-up in order to hide the horrors of Hiroshima. They implied that the Hiroshima event was “just” a big, impressive bomb invention that forced the Japanese to surrender and, in the process, demonstrated that America was inarguably the most powerful country in the world.

Blume concisely re-tells the stories of the six survivors whom Hersey chose to exemplify the actual devastation of the bomb and the effects of its aftermath. Hersey realized that numbers like 42,000 do not even begin to tell the story. The war-weary public was numb to the effects of numbers on their psyches. He also realized that in some cases a picture is not worth a thousand words. A mysterious mushroom cloud communicates nothing about the terror of a nuclear attack.

But, he knew, a detailed description of eyes hanging from their sockets; skin, like ill-fitting gloves, peeling off hands; and bodies and bones of loved ones forming ugly blackened masses lying all over the ground would affect readers in ways that death numbers and pictures of the bomb could never accomplish. And his words did work effectively to make the public aware of the very real and potentially very personal effects of the attack — personal because Hersey brought the sheer horror of the bomb directly to the minds, hearts, and homes of the American people. He accomplished his stated purpose: to warn every person that each of us is a victim; that the world would now be a boiling cauldron of nuclear power and waste; and that what happened to those six people might well happen to us if we don’t stop the spread of the  madness of nuclear armaments. The world was now in a new and different kind of ever-present mortal danger, every single day a threat to our very existence.

Blume’s work, like Hersey’s, is a testament to the power of fine journalism. She brilliantly recreates Hersey’s fragile position as the ultimate whistleblower, as well as his earth-shaking reporting. After “Hiroshima,” he was loved and appreciated by thousands of people. But he was also despised by hundreds of the world’s powerful figures and by many Americans who refused to see their nation in a new and unflattering light. He had divulged difficult truths. He had destroyed the cover-up. He had dented the glorious reputation of post-war America. He had exposed his country’s callous disregard for the lives of civilians — guinea pigs — human beings just like us.

And, ironically, he had become the enemy of both Cold War foes. Many American officials despised him and his essay because he had damaged our post-war image as the “good guys.” He had made the Japanese people the victims and had turned the spotlight away from the unforgivable tortures inflicted on American military men by the Japanese “animals.” He had given the Soviet Union even greater incentive to catch up in the nuclear arms race. And on the other side, the Soviet power structure felt that he had intended to make the USSR look comparatively weak in the eyes of the world; that he was simply a disgustingly effective purveyor of American propaganda; and that he was proclaiming, in effect, “Russia, here’s what we will do to you if you dare to challenge us.”

Finally, Blume makes a brief but powerful plea at the end of her book. She urges us all to demonstrate once and for all that we have learned the lessons of Hiroshima and “Hiroshima,” to heed the uncomfortable truths of journalistic truth-tellers, to accept and act on the reality that the world since Hiroshima is teetering on the edge of self-destruction, and to understand that the time for ending the madness is now. Time is short.

Review by Jack Kramer. First published on Bookreporter.com

‘Until I Find You’ by Rea Frey is a dark novel of love and loss and a mother’s determination to save her baby

“Until I Find You” by Rea Frey is a story filled with darkness and loss. There’s a lot of loss going on from main character Rebecca Gray’s point of view. In fact, one of the losses is her sight. She has a degenerative disease and can only see shadows, and she knows her sight will get worse and worse. To make matters even darker, Rebecca is a widow. Her husband died when she was newly pregnant, her mother shortly after that, and her grief at losing her husband, her mother, her sight, and the life she envisioned is quite overwhelming.

It’s fascinating to learn how Rebecca manages life with a baby. She diapers him, changes and bathes him, feeds him, and takes him for walks in Elmhurst, the suburb of Chicago where she grew up. She lives in the house she grew up in and is able to function there perfectly; she also navigates her way to the nearby park and friends’ houses. Her strength and her determination not to let her blindness hamper her become a stumbling block when she ventures out determined to not rely on anyone else. At times, we want to shake her and tell her that it’s permissible to let others help; that people who are sighted rely on others, and she certainly can, as well.

The story is told from alternating perspectives, that of Rebecca — labeled “Bec” and told in first person narrative — and that of Crystal, one of Bec’s new friends, told in third person narrative. Crystal and Bec met at a grief group and became friends. They live within a few blocks of each other in Elmhurst. Both Bec and Crystal are very unhappy. Both are widows, both have a child, and both are suffering severely. Bec is the center of the story, and her grief is compounded by all her other losses. Her life seems very dark at the start of the story. She imagines that someone has been watching her inside her home. She finds her front door unlocked when she is sure that she had locked it. She finds the baby’s playpen moved from the room she kept it in to another room. As readers, we believe her, but we also wonder if she is a completely reliable narrator. Is her emotional state causing her to imagine things?

The one bright spot is that an old boyfriend, Jake, who she believes is the love of her life, is back from out of state. He texts her and wants to meet. He knows that she is widowed, and when they meet, she realizes that she’s still in love with him. But when her baby disappears and is replaced with another infant, will he believe her? He’s a Chicago detective, so he could be the perfect person to help her find out what happened to Jackson.

Bec knows her baby. She knows what Jackson smells like, feels like. She knows every inch of him because while she can’t see him, she feels him, she touches him. She knows the patch of eczema behind one ear and the notch on his collarbone. The baby in the crib in her house is not the quiet placid Jackson who never cries.

But what do you do when no one believes you — her friends, most of whom have never really held Jackson or spent a lot of time with him, the police who were called to her home when she thought someone had been inside, and maybe even Jake. Bec knows she’s on her own, and she knows unequivocally that the baby isn’t hers — even if no one else believes her.

The story takes off at this point, and while we don’t know quite what to believe, we know that Crystal’s life, too, is far from perfect. Crystal’s narrative is vague, and there are omissions. Her ten-year-old daughter Savi is a talented cello player, and Bec, who was a symphony cellist, gives her lessons. But Savi is unhappy because she knows her mother is unhappy. While she has fun with the nanny, a young woman named Pam, we get the feeling that Pam isn’t what she appears to be, and that she’s hiding something.

The mystery of where Jackson is, how Bec will figure it out, and who her friends really are intensifies as the hours and days pass. There are many clues and many red herrings, and while we know Crystal’s story is also important because she’s the other narrator, we don’t know her role in the story.

While the beginning was a bit slow, the action and emotions really pick up once the baby is gone, and in fact, I stayed up late to finish the book and find out how it all ended. Frey has written a story that will chill readers but will make us think about living with a visual or hearing impairment. How do we remake our lives if we lose our sight? And the fact that Bec has also lost every single person in her family is perhaps the worst loss.

It’s not all dark, though. Frey provides a very satisfactory ending with a hopeful tone for Bec’s future. Light at the end is welcome, indeed.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by St. Martin’s Griffin, the publisher, for review purposes.

Three wonderful nonfiction picture books about dogs and cats and shelter animals

With COVID-19, many families have adopted needy shelter pets. But there are still many, many animals in shelters across the country who are in need of a loving home. These three picture books will not only share why it’s rewarding to rescue a pet but also share how to train your new dog or cat, thanks to National Geographic Kids’ two training books for kids.

“Tails From the Animal Shelter” by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Liza Woodruff shares the heartbreaking information that over six million animals a year arrive at animal shelters in the USA. Over three million are dogs, but there are also cats, birds, reptiles, potbellied pigs, and other animals. The book offers the sage advice that if you don’t know what kind of dog you want, let your local rescue help match you to the perfect pooch. The right dog is out there — one that will fit right into your family! Each dog is unique and if you choose by breed alone, you might miss out on a great dog. Cats are great pets, and it’s tragic that over three million of them are left homeless through no fault of their own. Cats are easier to care for than dogs because they don’t need to be walked. They automatically use their litter boxes, and the boxes just need daily cleaning. Cats should be kept inside, where they are safe from cars and predators like coyotes  and owls and even the neighbor’s dog. Some animals are special needs pets. A three-legged dog or a cat in a wheelchair might present some difficulty in finding a home for them, but they will be just as loyal and loving as any animal with more limbs or better working ones.

Potbellied pig, anyone?

Over 200,000 horses need homes every year.

Reptiles, too, often find themselves homeless. Snakes, lizards, bearded dragons, turtles and more make quiet pets. They need food, fresh water and a clean tank. Rabbits and rats, parrots and parakeets, all these abandoned and unwanted animals need a home. There is much information, including how to help if you can’t adopt a pet of your own. The illustrations are eye-catching and sweet. Each animal is infused with character – even the skunk. (Sleeping Bear Press)

“Fetch: A How to Speak Dog Training Guide” by Aubre Andrus and Gary Weitzman is published by National Geographic Kids and is a great example of a book with nonfiction text features. I’m a teacher who will be teaching students about nonfiction text features and plan to use this engaging book to show students what to look for in a nonfiction book as well as tips like how the table of contents is different from the index. The photographs are adorable, the information carefully highlighted with blocks of color; and each chapter is broken up into clearly marked subsections. Kids who love dogs will be fascinated by the wealth of information about training dogs that is encapsulated in this paperback book. There are beginning and advanced tricks and even some problem -solving tips. This is a great starting resource for training any dog.

Similarly, “Pounce: A How to Speak Cat Training Guide” by Tracey West and Gary Weitzman is about how to train cats – usually not as simple a task as training those loyal dogs. Cats like to do what they want, but there are some secrets in getting them to do what you want. Before one begins training a cat, it’s important to be able to read the cat’s body language, and there is a chapter devoted to that.  The first chapter, “Before You Begin,” includes “Reading Your Cat’s Body Language” and “Understanding Natural Behaviors.” I’m pleased that one of the questions the book poses, “Should you let your cat outside?” is answered with a definite NO. There are too many dangers outside including the risk of disease or attack from predators like coyotes and owls. Cats who wander in the streets get run over by cars and even cats who might be used to being outside get lost and killed. It’s not worth the risk. The book suggests walking the cat on a leash and harness after careful training. (Don’t make the mistake I did and just take a cat outside on a leash. My cat freaked out, slipped out of the harness, and was missing for 12 hours. It’s a long story that ended up with the cat arriving on our front door the next morning and us rescuing 2 stray feral kittens, but it’s not something I want to live through again!) Be careful.

All three of these books would make great additions to a child’s library or a classroom or school library. They are the kinds of books that kids will return to over and over, each reading  imparting new information and ideas.

Please note: This review is based on the final copies of these books provided by the publishers, Sleeping Bear Press and National Geographic Kids for review purposes. 

 

‘Death Rattle’ by Alex Gilly is a mystery that dives into detention centers, murder, and corruption

In “Death Rattle,” Alex Gilly takes us to Southern California. It’s not Hollywood and stars, though. It’s undocumented immigrants and a suspicious murder at a detention center that causes Nick Finn and his wife Mona, a human-rights lawyer, to investigate. When Mona gets threats, she knows she’s on the right track.

People around the investigation begin dying. When Carmen, the young woman whom Finn rescued from a sinking boat, is bitten repeatedly by a snake in a detention center and not given appropriate medical care, she dies. Mona is determined to get justice for Carmen, who was also brutally tortured by someone in the drug cartel before she escaped Mexico.

The main characters, married couple Nick and Mona, are people we like because they are real people with foibles and backstories. Their determination to do the right thing is stirring, especially when many just want to ignore the plight of the undocumented. While there are twists at the end, to many mystery readers, the twist is easy to foresee. The foreshadowing is a bit heavy handed at times, but the overall plot is thrilling, and readers will want to know exactly how it all ends up.

Although this is the second book in the series, and I didn’t read the first one, that didn’t handicap me at all. It works fine as a stand alone novel, and I would like to read future novels in this series.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Forge, for review purposes.