David Kubicek

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Hiroshima: City on Fire

Hiroshima 1

If you think a nuclear war would be a good idea, or even if you don’t, you should read this book.

The atomic bomb was first used in warfare on the morning of August 6, 1945, when it was dropped from a high-altitude U.S. aircraft on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb was the culmination of several years of work by U.S. scientists, and many involved with the project weren’t even sure if it would work.

It worked. Hiroshima had a population of 245,000. About 100,000 died, and another 100,000 were injured (and most of them would suffer from varying degrees of radiation sickness for the rest of their lives). The blast destroyed everything at ground zero, and the shock waves and heat collapsed buildings and set fires for miles around. Three days later, since the first bomb apparently didn’t convince the Japanese Emperor to surrender, the Americans dropped an A-Bomb  on Nagasaki. Apparently, that convinced the Emperor, and World War II ended.

American journalist John Hersey interviewed many of the survivors and published Hiroshima in 1946. Nearly 40 years later he returned to Japan to interview those still living and the relatives of those who were not, and he added a final chapter–The Aftermath–to a new edition of his book, published in 1985.

Several things we must remember if we ever catch ourselves thinking that a nuclear war wouldn’t be so bad:

  • The Hiroshima bomb was a fart in the wind compared to the A-Bombs we have now; after seven decades of research and development, humankind has developed bombs a thousand times more destructive than that first feeble attempt, and today’s bombs don’t have to be dropped from airplanes–we have missiles now.

  • In 1945, the U.S. was the only country in possession of an A-Bomb; now there are many (the latest count, I believe, is 24), and if we start lobbing A-Bombs around, we are likely to piss off some of those countries who, in turn, will start lobbing A-Bombs around.

  • We have a president who, in a one-hour foreign policy briefing, allegedly asked three times why we shouldn’t use nuclear weapons, as long as we’ve got them.

  • If a full-scale or even a partial nuclear war breaks out, we won’t be able to watch it unfold on our TV’s, laptops or phones from the security of our comfy living rooms the way we can watch overseas wars now; the war will be brought home for us to experience in all of its fire and glory.

I think it’s highly likely that Donald Trump, given his temperament and unpreparedness for the job of Commander In Chief, will drop an A-bomb on a civilian population. The question is when will he drop it and on whom.

Albert Einstein said: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Given the destructive power of today’s A-Bombs, there might not be anyone left alive to fight World War IV.

Wail of the Banshee: Harbinger of Death in Irish Folklore

A mournful wail shatters the stillness, rising and falling like ocean waves, echoing through the dark, lonely hills. It is the cry of the Banshee, an omen that someone will die.

According to Irish folklore, the Banshee wails, or “keens,” for only the five major families of Ireland: the O’Neils, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys, and the Kavanaghs. Each Banshee attaches itself to a mortal family and follows that family wherever it travels, even across the ocean.

When someone in the family is about to die she stalks the hills around their home, her silver-grey hair streaming like a gossamer waterfall to the ground, her face pale and eyes red from weeping, her grey-white cloak as fine as cobwebs clinging to her tall slender frame. If you catch a Banshee, she must reveal the name of the person for whom she is keening.

The Banshee can take many forms. She may appear as a beautiful young woman, as a stately matron, as an old hag, or as an animal Irish folklore associates with witchcraft, such as a hooded crow, a hare, or a weasel. Some legends maintain that she is a ghost, often of a murdered woman or woman who died in childbirth.

In Ireland she is called Bean Sidhe (Sidhe pronounced “shee”), which literally means “woman of the fairy mound.” Her Scottish counterpart is Bean Nighe, or “washer woman,” which is another form she can take. The English word “keen” is derived from the Irish caoineadh, which means “lament.”

Traditionally, a woman would sing a lament, which was said to be an imitation of the Banshee’s cry, at peasant funerals.

According to legend, Banshees would appear before the death of a member of the five major families and sing their laments. If several banshees appeared, it foretold that someone great or holy would die.

The Banshee herself often attends funerals, her wails blending in with those of the mourners.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Story of the Great Migration

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great MigrationThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lincoln may have freed the slaves in 1863,but that only changed the nature of African Americans’ enslavement in the south. They got paid for their work, but their paychecks were much smaller than the paychecks of white people doing the same type of work–sometimes, as in the case of sharecroppers, they would be lucky to do more than break even, and sometimes they ended up owing the planters whose land they worked. Black people could not vote, they had to step off the sidewalk if a white person was coming, they had to look down when talking to white people, and black men had to be especially careful not to look at white women. Lynchings were commonplace, and no court in the south would convict a white man for killing a black man.

This was the life for freed black people living in the south for more than 100 years, until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s began gathering steam and resulted in key court cases and legislation that eventually killed the Jim Crow laws.

Many African Americans left the south, heading north and west, in search of better lives. Beginning as a trickle about 1915, it soon became a flood and finally petered out about 1975, when southern society was changing enough that blacks didn’t feel that it was urgent for them to leave to seek better lives.

The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of The Great Migration, focusing on three immigrants who took three different routes–George Swanson Starling to New York, Ida Mae Gladney to Chicago, and Robert Pershing Foster to Los Angeles. George Starling left when he got word that he might be lynched, Ida Mae Gladney and her husband George were sharecroppers who wanted a better life, and Robert P. Foster was a surgeon who left so he could practice his profession without restrictions dictated by the color barrier.

But the north was not the land of milk and honey many blacks expected it would be. There was still racial tension and discrimination, but of a different variety, and Wilkerson does a good job of covering the struggles the immigrants had while starting their new lives.

Wilkerson, whose parents migrated from the south and who was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism (in 1994), spent about 15 years researching this book, conducted more than 1,200 interviews, and retraced the routes taken by Starling, Gladney, and Foster.

The Warmth of Other Suns is a history buff’s dream. It is a readable and informative book about a period that changed the face of this country. I highly recommend it.

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Review of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The trade paperback edition of Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, hit bookstores on October 5, 2009, and within a week had climbed to number 15 on the New York Times bestseller list. By October 23 it had peaked at number 13. Since then it has remained in the top 30, ranging up and down from the mid teens to the high 20s (as I write this on the first day of summer 2010, it is #27).

An unusual achievement for a first novel, but Hotel is an unusual novel. It is about the relationship between Henry Lee, who is Chinese, and Keiko Okabe, who is Japanese. The story begins in 1986 when Seattle’s Panama Hotel is preparing to re-open after having been closed for more than forty years. The personal belongings of many Japanese families are found in the basement–apparently stashed there when the families are relocated to internment camps during WWII. Henry gets permission to go through the treasures, searching for anything that might have belonged to the Okabe family, but in particular for a recording by a local jazz artist that he and Keiko had shared when they were 12 years old. Although Henry married (his wife has recently died) and had a son, the memory of his first love has always haunted him because they were separated when she and her family were sent to a camp. To complicate matters, Henry’s father despises the Japanese because they are the enemies of China. He makes Henry wear an “I am Chinese” button so that he won’t be mistaken for the enemy.

This is a love story, but it is also about subtle forms of racism. Henry is not accepted by other Chinese kids because he attends a Caucasian school. Keiko is sent to an internment camp although she is third generation American and doesn’t even speak Japanese. The story shifts deftly between 1986 and the 1940s. Ford’s research and writing style make the war years and his characters come alive. Especially poignant is Ford’s depiction of the death of a community after its residents are rounded up and shipped out. An excellent novel. I highly recommend it.

Ford himself is of Chinese descent. His great grandfather, Min Chung, who immigrated to the U.S. around 1865, changed his name to the more western-sounding William Ford. Jamie Ford’s second novel is scheduled for release in early 2011. For more information, visit Jamie’s Website.

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