Barefoot Gen, vol 8: Merchants of Death, by Keiji Nakazawa

My Copy: 9780867195996 (image from

This volume has a darker tone to it than some others, and that’s even after all the death we’ve read about so far, and the challenges Gen and the other children have faced.

Gen and Ryuta are trying hard to keep their families going (adopted and otherwise). I love how Gen will randomly help others as things go, even as he needs some things for himself. He had a dark time in the last volume, but he’s tried so hard to bounce back and keep living and help others to.

Gen tries to return to school and has a fantastic teacher who, because he is anti-war and protested for peace, has lost his position at the school. Gen learns the American advisers have branded all peace protesters as communists and the teacher was released. Gen and the other students, however, love this teacher, and go to his home to learn from him in protest. It’s great to see what happens with the students and the principal when he finds out about it.

Life goes on for Gen and the gang, but it gets harder for gen when he finds that the city is going to demolish their house, and his older brother, Koji, goes to the city to try and understand why. It’s part of a redevelopment project for Hiroshima, to clean it up and make it a “peace city” (whatever that means–the kids sure don’t know).

It’s apparent that the government is trying to sweep the city clean of all remnants of the bomb and the deaths, partly to appease the Americans who are helping feed and get the country back on their feet. What I read reminded me a bit of the documentary White Light, Black Heat, produced by HBO a couple decades ago. The writer of this book was on there, too, now that I recall (I really need to dig that doc back up).

What I do remember from it is the last of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb victims (since they are dying out) saying how even as they were suffering, the government was trying to erase the memory of them. Seeing the radiation burns and scars is a constant reminder to the government (who has to pay for assistance and their care a little the past few decades), and some of the survivors are just as bitter toward their own government as they are at the Americans who dropped the bomb. One or two frankly said that the Japanese leaders can’t wait for the last of the bomb survivors to finally die, so they don’t have to listen to the speeches and the cries for peace when Japan’s being asked to help with other people’s wars, materially or strategically.

Remembering that documentary made this darker, sadder, because it’s amazing how even when it happens to your people, if it’s distasteful enough, the apathy and denial will cause you to blind yourself to the suffering. Other than an impassioned cry against nuclear weapons, this series is definitely noteworthy for that. First their neighbors, then the occupiers, then their own government has refused to care for them or just ignored them. I can understand Gen’s frustration and his determination to make things better as best he can if that’s what he’s had to contend with. And when the city planners have come to look over his home, insisting it’ll have to be demolished for a road, what’s to happen to him and his family?

Can’t wait to see what happens next.


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