Nakazawa Keiji's "Hadashi no Gen", or "Barefoot Gen" as we read it, is a stark portrayal of the artist's experience before and after the bombing of Hiroshima. In Japan, in most if not all junior high schools, manga and toys are banned even today as distractions from study. Yet, Barefoot Gen won the praise of Educators in Japan immediately after it was published. This is perhaps the only manga, or graphic novel, which can be consitantly found on the shelves of school libraries in Japan.
It is not an "oh, woe is me" tale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rather a sharp and critical statement about both nuclear war and the Japanese expansionist empire in the first part of this century. Packed with fine details of Japanese life which are still obvious today, simple illustrations and direct text hold nothing back. What many readers may find awkward humour rattled with panic is scattered through the story, but that is a very accurate depiction of the Japanese social response mechanism to impossible situations.
The book is also a unique pop-culture portrayal of Japanese attitudes to 'gaijin', or foreigners living in Japan at the time, particularly Korean. Koreans were left without assistance by Japanese who considered them third class, and this book is unique to include that aspect in a text for youth. It is also sharply critical of an Empire's treatment of her people, while this empire still shadows Japanese life today. A truly remarkable book which should find a space on the shelves of youth and community libraries everywhere.
The simple language and graphics also make this book an excellent source for ESL readers.
Do yourself and your teenagers a favour and find copies of Barefoot Gen and the other books by Nakazawa which have been translated in this series (search Amazon.com for "The Day After", "Out of the Ashes" and others), then share them.