The Flowers of Hiroshima, A Book Review

When I first read this book, I had just turned 14. I have never forgotten the heartbreak. This is a review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris, re-read more than 50 years later.

image of the cover of The Flowers of Hiroshima.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Told in the first person, this is the story of a Japanese family and their American boarder. The tone is loving and tender and heartbreaking.

Yuka-san, a young housewife, meets Sam Willoughby outside of her home. Sam, a young American on a business trip to Hiroshima, wants to stay with a native family. Yuka’s family could use the extra money. So Sam becomes her lodger.

Yuka-san loves her family, friends, and neighbors. She worries about her husband. Takes delight in her two children, her beautiful sister, and her American lodger. And she hides the ugliness of post-atomic-bomb-life from Sam.

She watches Sam fall in love with Ohatsu and hopes that he will marry her sister and take her to America. But Ohatsu loves another. And Yuka cannot deny her sister a chance for happiness. Then the shadow they live under touches each of them and changes all of their lives.

THE SETTING

Fourteen years after the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Yuka and her family live in the “back alley” of Hiroshima. They rent their two-room home with its “handkerchief-sized garden” on a road “as narrow and twisting as a chewed-up string.”

We see lives with limited opportunities and terrible economic and social pressures. And we get glimpses of the stories behind physical and emotional scars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Edita Morris (1902-1988) was born in Örebro, Sweden, to Reinhold Toll and his first wife Alma Prom-Möller. The youngest of four daughters, she grew up on her grandmother’s farm and in Stockholm. Her “strong-willed divorced mother” and a “good girls’ school” educated her.

While engaged to a young lieutenant from a noble family, she met journalist and writer, Ira Morris. Ira was the son of an American millionaire and envoy to Stockholm. They married in 1925. His political and social interests sparked hers. They traveled extensively and became political activists. During WWII, they lived in America.

Morris had her first short stories published in the Atlantic MonthlyHarper’s Bazaar, and other publications. Her first novel, My Darling from the Lions, was published in 1943.

In 1959, she published The Flowers of Hiroshima. It won the Albert Schweitzer Prize in 1961. Morris wrote many other books, but The Flowers of Hiroshima is her best known work. They translated the story into 39 languages and made an opera. Hollywood purchased the film rights but never made a movie.

Her inspiration came partly from her visits to Japan. But she also drew on the experiences of her son, Ivan Morris. Ivan was an intelligence office in the U.S. Navy. In that role, he visited Hiroshima immediately after the bombing. He later became a distinguished Japanologist.

Morris and her husband founded a rest house in Hiroshima for victims of the bomb. After her death, the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture, usually known as the Hiroshima Foundation, was established.

She died in Paris in 1988.

MY OPINION

This is a relatively short and easy read. It moved me as a teen and left an indelible memory. When I decided to devote part of this month to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, I decided to re-read this story.

As an adult rereading the story, I recognized some mild propaganda. There is some dated language but the characters, time, and place are so well rendered that it is easy to overlook. Finally, there are a few places where the Japanese viewpoint slipped into a more American one. These things were minor.

The character Yuka is always compassionate. She never casts blame or expresses hatred, not even when her worst fears come true. It’s a heartrending story of dignity and compassion and suffering. It grabbed hold of my imagination as a teen and in rereading it. Several passages moved me to tears. 

If you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this book. I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris. Have you read any fiction about the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki?

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