Study Guide

Toshiko Sasaki in Hiroshima

By John Hersey

Toshiko Sasaki

On the day of the bombing, she was a clerk in the personnel department at East Asia Tin Works.

Where She Was When It Happened

Miss Sasaki had just arrived at work and was sitting at her desk when the bomb was dropped. She ended up trapped beneath rubble and a pile of books from the shelves behind her, and she broke her leg in a really gnarly and gruesome fashion.

What Happened Next

Several hours passed before she was rescued from the rubble and brought outside. Unfortunately, no one took her to a hospital, and she ended up huddled under a makeshift lean-to with two other injured people for days. We cannot begin to imagine how much that must have sucked.

Some friends of hers eventually showed up, but they were, er, less than helpful, according to Hersey:

On the third day, August 8th, some friends who supposed she was dead came to look for her body and found her. They told her that her mother, father, and baby brother, who at the time of the explosion were in the Tamura Pediatric Hospital, where the baby was a patient, had all been given up as certainly dead, since the hospital was totally destroyed. Her friends then left her to think that piece of news over. (3.37)

Holy frenemy, Batman. If those were our friends, we'd be tempted to give up on the goodness of humanity too.

Some people eventually showed up to help her get medical attention, but then she was bounced around from hospital to hospital, since no one was able to figure out what to do to help her leg. Eventually, she ended up at the Red Cross hospital in the care of Dr. Sasaki. However, even he was kind of at a loss to help her, and her conditioned seemed to worsen steadily:

All this time, Miss Sasaki grew weaker and weaker, and her spirits fell low. One day, the young man who had lent her his translation of de Maupassant at Hatsukaichi came to visit her; he told her that he was going to Kyushu but that when he came back, he would like to see her again. She didn't care. Her leg had been so swollen and painful all along that the doctor had not even tried to set the fractures, and though an X-ray taken in November showed that the bones were mending, she could see under the sheet that her left leg was nearly three inches shorter than her right and that her left foot was turning inward. She thought often of the man to whom she had been engaged. Someone told her he was back from overseas. She wondered what he had heard about her injuries that made him stay away. (4.21)

So, you can see that things were pretty bleak for her: she had a painful swollen leg that was now three inches shorter than the other, there was no end in sight to her discomfort, and she had a deadbeat fiancé who didn't want to see her now that she was injured. Because of this unfortunate chain of events, she definitely got pretty down in the dumps and morbid. And hey, you can't blame her—we'd be pretty depressed if we had to deal with all that, too.

A friend got so concerned about her spirits that s/he called Father Kleinsorge to come see her, which did seem to cheer her up (even though she did not start out terribly religious):

Whether or not Father Kleinsorge's answers to Miss Sasaki's questions about life were final and absolute truths, she seemed quickly to draw physical strength from them. Dr. Sasaki noticed it and congratulated Father Kleinsorge. By April 15th, her temperature and white count were normal and the infection in the wound was beginning to clear up. (4.31)

She and Father Kleinsorge stayed in touch throughout her life, and he eventually convinced her to convert—and, later, to join the convent. She ended up having a happy and successful life as a nun. Along the way, she also got orthopedic surgery that markedly improved her quality of life.

Finally, everything's coming up Milhouse, er, Miss Sasaki.

Afterthoughts of War

Among Hersey's subjects, Miss Sasaki seemed to fall into the camp of "non-dwellers"—that is, according to Hersey, she wasn't really interested in spending a lot of time focused on the past. In a speech she made on the twenty-fifth anniversary of becoming a nun, she basically said as much:

"I shall not dwell on the past. It is as if I had been given a spare life when I survived the A-bomb. But I prefer not to look back. I shall keep moving forward."
(5.101)

Kind of a far cry from the girl who felt so sorry for herself and morbid that she couldn't really focus on anything else, eh?

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