Literature about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb blasts has been around for quite sometime. But it is perhaps the first time that the story of a hibakusha has been told for middle-grade readers in America with Kathleen Burkinshaw’s novel, The Last Cherry Blossom.
The novel is the story of Burkinshaw’s mother, Toshiko Ishikawa Hilliker, who was victimised by the nuclear blast during her own childhood. She married an American and moved to USA and never spoke of her nuclear war experience till at the end of her life when she saw her daughter forced to quit her career because of a debilitating neurological condition as a result of her mother’s exposure to the nuclear blast, eventhough Hilliker had been at “ home” in Japan and less affected.
Burkinshaw has put down her mother’s story as she heard it. The novel also evolved as we are told: “At age 12 in 2010, Burkinshaw’s daughter, Sara, came home upset one day after classmates said the infamous mushroom cloud that had engulfed Hiroshima was ‘cool’.
‘The need for human connection and emotion is timeless, and I don’t think the kids who were talking about that mushroom cloud were doing anything to be cruel,’ Burkinshaw said. ‘They just didn’t know. They needed to have that connection.’”