Barefoot Gen, vol. 3: Life After The Bomb, by Keiji Nakazawa (trans. by Project Gen)

My Copy: 9780867195941 (image from bn.com)

Barefoot Gen, vol. 3 continues with Gen and his mother Kimie still trying to find a place for them away from Hiroshima until thing stabilize. Gen picks up a stray kid, one he’d mistaken for his little brother in the last book, and he becomes part of the family, stretching resources a bit. But his addition makes things a little more bearable mentally, even for Kimie, because it’s a reminder that others need help.

The family is hoping to get enough resources to get Gen’s older brother, Akira, who was sent two days away to the countryside to work and get better food rations (and survive any bombs should they come). In the meantime, Kimie gets ill from malnutrition, as does Tomoko, the newborn. Gen goes out to try and get money, and ends up at a man’s house to take care of his brother, who has been burned and is dying from the radiation sickness. The family is brutal to the brother and can’t wait for him to die because most in the area think it’s contagious.

At first, the man, Seiji, is angry and mean to Gen, but the kids realize it’s because he’s being treated as a leper. The family hates him and tries to keep his presence quiet, but the daughters in the family are made fun of for having a monster in the house. The storyline with Seiji is amazing, and vacillates between anger and profound sadness. I feel for this character, even when he’s being a bastard, because it doesn’t take long to realize what he’s going through. Gen and his adopted brother, Ryuta, do their best to help him in spite of others’ scorn and fear.

I believe Seiji was the inspiration for the author to do what he did and write this novel, the graphic format being perfect. Seiji is determined that people learn what happened to him and make them never forget it (especially after his ill treatment), and is determined to not leave the world until he’s painted what he’s seen. That moment is just “wow”, and you hope he can finish what he’s trying to do.

I have grown to love these kiddos, even when they get violent toward others. I think they’re the ultimate expression of rage the author had during those terrible times of suffering after the bomb, when people had little resources and it became “every man for himself.” Gen becomes a hero in a way by being destructive and punishing people (or trying to) for their wickedness and selfishness.

The fight for resources is becoming tougher in this book, and the war ends within it’s pages. Akira is stuck waiting for family to come for him and Gen sets out to go get him and bring him back to mother. Other Japanese who are homeless are drifting here and there trying to find food or work. Young children are carted off to jail for theft for their survival, and some starve when they choose not to steal (which is what Ryuta was trying to do when Gen came across him again). But because of the hardship and anger over losing the war, the authorities have no sympathy and take anyone in for theft.

I’m curious what the 4th volume contains, and will definitely continue on. How much more will this family be able to take, and the people around them?

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