Thousands were killed on Aug. 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and those who did survive the blast were left with permanent scars, both emotional and physical.
Canadian author Shaena Lambert, who lives in Vancouver with her family, explores the aftereffects of this devastating moment in history in Radiance, her newest novel.
Radiance tells the story of Keiko Kitigawa, an 18-year-old Hiroshima survivor chosen to travel to America for reconstructive surgery on her face as part of a pilot program.
While in the United States, Keiko lives with suburban housewife Daisy Lawrence and her husband Walter, a radio writer suspected of having Communist ties.
The organizers of The Hiroshima Project, who have sponsored Keiko’s surgery, have given Daisy the arduous task of encouraging the young girl to tell her story of what happened seven years earlier.
“When people bring Keiko to America they expect her to be a spokesperson and to tell her horrible story,” said Lambert. “Even though she’s a survivor she insists on her right to privacy and to all those stories that lie underneath that one story.”
Lambert chose to set her story seven years after the war, in 1952, which she calls a fascinating era; the McCarthy trials were underway as was the testing of hydrogen bombs.
“People who were living in 1952 were living with a new fear,” said Lambert. “All of that rational discourse was a thin veil for a massive panic.”
Keiko’s story began almost 10 years ago for Lambert. She travelled to Japan after beginning to write the novel and visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
“I looked at the truly sad artifacts there and the paintings by survivors. Instead of feeling inspired, I left thinking I can’t write this book,” said Lambert. “I ended up leaving the book for three years.”
Lambert returned to the book after 9/11 and realized how much the characters had changed for her.
“I didn’t realize until I was deep into it how much (Keiko) was going to insist on not telling her story,” said Lambert. “She is not going to be turned into a poster child for the bomb.”
The characters were not the only aspect of the story that had changed.
“It started out being a book about Hiroshima and it ended up being a book about the power of the subversiveness of the imagination,” said Lambert. “There are those shadowy places that exist only in our imagination.”