Film director tackles stories of Hiroshima
The author weaves the human and military aspects of the dropping of the bomb.
By ANSLEY HAMAN
"Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima" by Stephen Walker (HarperCollins Publishing Inc., 368 pages, $36.95 hardcover)
Emmy-winning documentary director Stephen Walker wanted to capture a film on paper, to draw scenes of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima with words.
His book, "Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima," weaves vignettes of a world weary of war in the summer of 1945 into snapshots of people involved in the decision to use the atomic bomb for the first time.
He tells individual stories of atomic scientists, U.S. military officials and Japanese civilians during the three weeks between the first desert test of the atomic bomb July 16 and the Aug. 6 destruction of Hiroshima.
"As long as you keep it in the moment, you get a much more accurate sense of how these decisions are being made," Walker said. "I really wanted to give a sense of what it felt like, what it tasted like, what it looked like in those places."
His story begins with two lovers in Hiroshima's Shukkeien Garden the night before the bombing, transitions to atomic tests in Los Alamos, N.M., and shows President Truman's movements in Germany, where he approved the bomb's use.
What makes it unique
Books such as "Hiroshima" by John Hersey detailed the survivors' stories. "Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes, and biographies of Truman told of difficult decisions by military officials and the president during World War II. But all three come together in Walker's book.
A British filmmaker with a history degree from Oxford University and a master's in the history of science from Harvard, Walker drew from his academic background, but said he did not write a book for scholars.
"I think it should appeal to anyone who is interested in history at all, but also people who are alive to what is an extraordinary story and want that story told in an extraordinary way," Walker said. "It's really aimed at all of us, and not just Americans."
Walker interviewed Japanese survivors, crew members of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, and scientists who worked in the atomic program.
His book differs from the Emmy-winning BBC documentary he directed two years ago about Hiroshima, "Days That Shook the World: Hiroshima," which included re-enactments of crucial events.
But writing a book that expressed the magnitude of the destruction in Hiroshima daunted him, he said.
Interviews with survivors helped Walker frame the experience, he said. He opened his book with the story of the two lovers who had been together the night before in the park but were apart when the bomb fell. One of them, Sunao Tsuboi, was injured but survived. Walker described the emotional response as Tsuboi recalled his final night before the bomb.
"He started through his tears to tell us a story that he had never told anyone before," Walker said. "I sort of went away and knew that would be the opening to my book."
That type of dramatic tension added cinematic elements to the book, and Walker said his agent is working on a potential Hollywood movie deal for the story.
"A book can achieve a certain amount, but movies reach more people," Walker said. "This is the last great American story that's not been told in a movie."