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Reviews by Patrick Wayland

The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

by Anonymous

A gripping look at one of the most defining moments in history. The first part of the book was written by scientists and medics on the Special Manhattan Engineer District Investigating Group. It describes in great detail what the atomic bomb was, how it worked and the damage it caused. At the time, the US treated the atomic weapon very scientifically as the country leapt into this new technology. Long before dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US avoided hitting these cities with conventional bombs so damage results were untainted. And soon after the Japanese surrendered, assessment teams were sent in to survey how the cities had been affected.

The last quarter of the book is the more engrossing part. It is the firsthand account from a British Catholic missionary living on the outskirts of Hiroshima, and it shows how completely unknowable the scale of the A-bomb was.

Down in the valley, perhaps one kilometer toward the city from us, several peasant homes are on fire and the woods on the opposite side of the valley are aflame. A few of us go over to help control the flames. While we are attempting to put things in order, a storm comes up and it begins to rain. Over the city, clouds of smoke are rising and I hear a few slight explosions.

You can see in his writing the priest thinks the bomb’s mushroom cloud is a storm, a thunderhead, he sees over the city. When the priest talks to other priests across the city, they think the same way he did when the bomb first detonated.

They had the same impression that we had in Nagatsuke: that the bomb had burst in their immediate vicinity. The Church, school, and all buildings in the immediate vicinity collapsed at once.

Seeing the razing of their city, morale of its citizens was also annihilated as well. This is shown by one dramatic description of a Japanese worker.

Fukai, the secretary of the Mission, is completely out of his mind. He does not want to leave the house and explains that he does not want to survive the destruction of his fatherland. He is completely uninjured. Father Kleinsorge drags him out of the house on his back and is forcefully carried away.

In his final words – most likely written after the Japanese surrendered – the priest gives a “live by the sword, die by the sword” statement about the use of the weapon, which is interesting given his very unique point of view.
…It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of war against civilians.

Reviewed on 2014.09.08

Dante: His Times and His Work

by Arthur John Butler

A fascinating biography if you are interested in medieval literature or the Machiavellian politics of 14th century Italy. Mostly covering Dante Alighieri’s greatest work, The Divine Comedy, and how it was sort of a poison pen letter for the people he felt had betrayed Christianity – and him personally. At the time, Florence was one of the greatest cities, so rich that its banks lent money to kings. When Dante was exiled for political reasons in the year 1301, possibly forced to leave his love – the inspiration for Beatrice – he felt the enduring sting of injustice. And this was the inspiration for his hell.

In this pit are punished the hypocrites, who go in slow procession clad in cowls of gilded lead.

Examining the circles shows how Dante even gave grades or levels to sins, scientifically applying weight to them.

The seventh pit is appointed for the punishment of thieves. Serpents and dragons are here introduced. In some cases the body is reduced to ashes in consequence of the bite, and presently recovers its shape; in others man and serpent blend; in others, again, they exchange natures, the sinners themselves being transmuted into the reptiles, and becoming the instruments of torment to their fellows. A kind of reckless and brutal joviality seems to characterize the malefactors.

Reviewed on 2014.08.30

The Black-Bearded Barbarian

by Marian Keith

The Black-Bearded Barbarian tells the story of George Leslie MacKay, the Presbyterian Priest from Canada, who brought Christianity to north Taiwan, or Formosa as it was known in the late 1800's. Even if you are not a religious person, this book is interesting in showing how one man, alone, walked into a land where he didn't know the culture or one word of the language and, over time, introduced an idea that change a people.

When MacKay landed, he first went about learning the language, customs and beliefs of the people. Most of the locals did not want to even rent a room to him - wanting only to stone him for being a foreign devil. But MacKay, living in a hut by a river, spent all his time learning Chinese, amazingly mastering it enough after only a few months to read and understand the scholarly texts of the intellectuals. He learned the scholar books so well that he would argue with the mandarins (men from the ruling class). His arguments for his beliefs were logical as well as spiritual. It was one of these bright, young mandarins, so impressed with MacKay's solid reasoning and unwavering beliefs, who became MacKay's first convert.

MacKay, with the bravery of "an army", walked from village to village talking about his beliefs, even traveling into the wild mountains where the Chinese dared not venture because of native headhunters. But he did not just preach, often working as a doctor, performing dentistry and giving out medicine for Malaria relief. He married a local woman and, in the end, was buried in Taiwan. This showing how ingrained he was with the people he had changed.

Reviewed on 2014.08.26

Chita: A Memory of Last Island

by Lafcadio Hearn

Chita, which is short for Conchita(Spanish for girl), is the fictional tale about the actual hurricane that hit Last Island, Louisiana, in 1856. The storm razed a resort hotel and killed over 200 people. In the story, Chita – a 5-year-old girl, survives the storm and is adopted by a Spanish fisherman and his wife. Her father, who later returns to New Orleans, does not know she is still alive and spends his last days in sorrow.

Hearn writes with an ear for language, capturing the different cultures of New Orleans – Spanish, Anglo, French, Italian and Creole – with very authentic dialog. Chita is a simple story, focusing on a simple tragedy while showing how life adjusts to change. The little girl quickly grows into her new home. Going from the city to the fisherman’s cottage, her skin darkens, she becomes quiet and explorative, she learns to read the waters and understand the weather. Hearn’s prose are rich with these natural details that let the reader feel the heat, taste the brine, hear the immigrants, see the storm clouds forming and Chita should be read for this feature.

Reviewed on 2014.08.16

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