Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

 

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Title: The Last Cherry Blossom

Author: Kathleen Burkinshaw

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2016

“Cherry blossoms are like life itself—so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom for only a short time.”

These lines, ethereal and poetic in intent, sum up in spirit the story of the young adult book, The Last Cherry Blossom. This book, authored by Kathleen Burkinshaw, seems to be impacting the world with its peacekeeping efforts as it is now a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Resource for Teachers and Students. Burkinshaw has recently spoken at the United Nations in New York City.

The Last Cherry Blossom has received much acclaim. It has been nominated for the NC School Library Media Association YA book award and 2019-2020 VSBA, 2018 & 2016 Scholastic WNDB Reading Club selection, and Finalist for NC Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award, 2018 Sakura Medal, Japan, and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (southeast region).

The narrative recreates a beautiful world that was ruined by the nuclear bomb blast in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Burkinshaw herself is the daughter of a survivor — a hibakusha. The Last Cherry Blossom brings home to the readers the loss, the pain and the suffering that a nuclear war generates through generations. Kathleen Burkinshaw herself suffers a neurological disorder due to her mother’s exposure to the atom bomb. 

25898828._SX318_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.’”