Naoko Wake, "American Survivors: Trans-Pacific Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" (Cambridge UP, 2021)


The little-known history of U.S. survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings reveals captivating trans-Pacific memories of war, illness, gender, and community. The fact that there are indeed American survivors of the American nuclear attack on Hiroshima & Nagasaki is not common knowledge.  Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki the existence of American survivors is not well known. American survivors, however, number in the thousands. This number, like that of survivors in general is dwindling fast. But they have a unique and important history. And, Naoko Wake have written this book almost at the last possible moment to capture it.

Counterintuitively, American Survivors: Trans-Pacific Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Cambridge UP, 2021) argues that it the very marginality of this group that make American survivors important. As she writes, “If, indeed, it is ‘not the centre that determines the periphery, but the periphery that ... determines the center,” US survivors’ history is a periphery that threatens to disassemble established meanings of the bomb that have not taken notice of it.’ (2). Based on oral testimonies and extensive documentation, American Survivors trace the history of American survivors from the interwar years to the present.

American Survivors argues that Hiroshima, and to a lesser extent, Nagasaki (both of which were port towns) were cities of immigrants, and as such the attack on these cities was not just an attack on supposedly homogenous Japanese cities (as it is commonly understood) but on diverse communities. Wake traces the way immigration and re-migration between Hiroshima and the US, Korea, and other locations, as well as war time dislocations created the immigrant communities in Hiroshima. These trans-pacific connections, and what she terms “strengths of weak ties” in the history of immigration in the Pacific,” had an important impact on subsequent histories, which the b ook examines with great detail and deftness.

Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.

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Ran Zwigenberg

Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.

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