Masuji Ibuse Clive Jordan - Essay

Clive Jordan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Black Rain, by Masuji Ibuse, does more than convey the horror of what it meant to be at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. It makes the event a tragedy with the entire Japanese civilian population as its hero—but a tragedy without heroic postures, because the only possible ambition, confronted with the monstrous fact of the Bomb, is survival.

This is a 'documentary' novel, in the sense that it incorporates genuine factual material about the explosion and that some of its characters are drawn from life—including the middle-class businessman, Shigematsu Shizuma, whose journal of the holocaust provides the bulk of the narrative. But this is more than an immensely skilful reconstruction job. The documentation has an essential function in the finely imagined plot—to rebut the charge, years later, that Shizuma's niece has radiation sickness and so cannot marry. Great ingenuity is used (on the whole successfully) to keep Shizuma moving around the shattered city. The detail and nature of the documentation develop with the needs of the plot, as the girl's true condition emerges and the narrator casts off restraint.

Shizuma is no cypher but a living character, humble, decent, uncomplaining, whose reticence makes the Bomb's obscene rending of the everyday fabric stand out in sharper relief. He clings stoically to what survives of the old values, raising carp and hoping for the future. This novel, with its subtle ironies and noble, unsentimental pity, is a reminder of the strengths of Japanese fiction. (p. 193)

Clive Jordan, "D-503's Diary," in New Statesman (© 1970 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 79, No. 2030, February 6, 1970, pp. 192-93.∗