Barefoot Gen, vol 4: Out of the Ashes, by Keiji Nakazawa

My Copy: 9780867195958 (image from bn.com)

It’s amazing how far Gen’s come as a young boy, and how much farther still to become a good man. This fourth volume of the Barefoot Gen story continues with our hero and his family trying to make ends meet, even as things get stranger and tougher.

The Americans show up partway through, and rumors run rampant as to what they’re going to do to the population. Some encounters are fun for the kids, others bitter and heartbreaking. The American troops have plenty of food and storage while the Japanese around them are starving. Many attempt to take some of the food, and sometimes it has dire consequences.

In this volume, the black market is more prominent, and Ryuta is in the middle of the violence that amounts to turf wars between rival gangs. Gen wants to help him and those who got dragged along, realizing how starvation and fear of it has warped minds around him.

I felt very much for Gen in this particular book, because he can see things are desperate–he knows they are–and yet there are certain levels he can’t go down. He has had to make heavy decisions regarding whether to take dogs for meat (it’s a harsh part to read through, and makes you wonder what you would do and could you do it). Gen’s done some scheming and manipulation to get food, but hasn’t’ gone the way of criminal gang behavior. The gangs are despicable, as Gen finds out, squeezing every bit they can out of the people and organizing assassinations while the kids pick up on these tricks of the trade and eventually are sent out to kill for adults who see them as expendable.

Barefoot Gen, vol 4 also has Gen going back to school where he meets a girl who has had her hair fall out because of the bomb as well. This same girl has an older sister that Gen meets, who has also had more dreadful meetings with the American soldiers. Gen makes some friends and plenty of enemies at this new school… one of which may be needed to help him find his little sister when she ends up kidnapped.

It’s an incredible story, making one wonder how a person can keep sane when the whole world around has seemingly gone mad, and so many of the old values have gone.

I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen next.

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