2016 nonfiction finalist

Susan Southard | Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War

Susan Southard

About the author
Susan Southard holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and was a nonfiction fellow at the Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War is the recipient of the 2016 Lukas Book Prize, sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, and was named a best book of the year by The Washington Post, The Economist, the American Library Association, and Kirkus Reviews. Southard’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and Lapham’s Quarterly. She has taught nonfiction seminars at Arizona State University’s Piper Writers Studio and the University of Georgia, and directed creative writing programs for incarcerated youth and at a federal prison for women outside Phoenix. Southard lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she is the founder and artistic director of Essential Theatre.

About the book
In the late morning of August 9, 1945—three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—the people of Nagasaki moved through another day of hunger and wartime routine. At 11:02 a.m. a brilliant flash illuminated the sky, followed by an explosion equal to 21,000 tons of TNT. With searing heat and an annihilating force that defies imagination, the atomic blast tore through factories, shops, and homes, carrying unprecedented levels of radiation that penetrated the bodies of people and animals. Approximately 74,000 people were killed, and another 75,000 were wounded.

Nagasaki takes us on the astonishing journeys of five hibakusha (atomic bomb–affected people), all teenagers at the time of the bombing. From 1945 to Nagasaki today, we watch them and survivors across the city navigate an uncertain future with punishing injuries, acute and late-onset radiation-related illnesses, and haunting fears that they would pass on genetic disorders to their children and grandchildren. In a remarkable demonstration of human resilience, a small number of hibakusha made the very personal choice to speak out about their experiences, even as U.S. policies kept their suffering hidden in both in their own country and across the world. The survivors’ goal: To ensure that Nagasaki remains the last atomic-bombed city in history.

Susan Southard spent more than a decade researching and interviewing hibakusha and atomic bomb historians, physicians, and specialists to reconstruct the days, months, and years after the bombing. Using powerful eyewitness accounts, Southard unveils this neglected story of the enduring impact of nuclear war. Published for the 70 anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki expands our understanding of the atomic bomb and its impact and will help shape public discussion of one of the most controversial wartime acts in history.

Critics / Reviews
“A poignant and complex picture of the second atomic bomb’s enduring physical and psychological tolls. Eyewitness accounts are visceral and haunting. . . . But the book’s biggest achievement is its treatment of the aftershocks in the decades since 1945.”  — The New Yorker

“Susan Southard does for Nagasaki what John Hersey did for Hiroshima, and more. She takes us beneath the mushroom cloud with harrowing, damning, eloquent intimacy—and then through ensuing decades of individual and civic recovery right up to the present day. Nagasaki:  Life After Nuclear War is scrupulous, passionate, and compassionate history at its very best.”  — John W. Dower, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
“Magnificent and necessary... Reading [Nagasaki] is a powerful way to engage with the moral conundrums surrounding our country's use of atomic weapons.... Let us hope that many will read this important book.”  — Los Angeles Times
Nagasaki is a devastating read that highlights man’s capacity to wreak destruction, but in which one also catches a glimpse of all that is best about people.”  — San Francisco Chronicle
“An intimate chronicle of individual lives: like a good documentary film-maker, Southard allows her subjects, with all their attractive and quirky qualities, to speak for themselves.”  — Financial Times
“Beautifully written, weaving history and story.”  — Sharman Apt Russell, author of Hunger: An Unnatural History  
“Thoughtful and deeply affecting…A damning indictment of nuclear weapons and an inspiring reminder that some people prevail, even in the face of impossible odds.”  — The Christian Science Monitor
“Southard’s vivid stories of five Nagasaki survivors powerfully illustrates the second atomic bombing and seventy years of life in the nuclear age. This book is the most extraordinary account ever written by an American author.”  — Dr. Tomonaga Masao, former Director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Hospital
“[Nagasaki] provides the material and personal stories of one of the darkest days in human history.... One of the definitive histories of the end of World War II. Essential.”  — Library Journal, starred review
“The merits of Southard's book are clear. It was bad enough for the Americans to have killed so many people, and then hide the gruesome facts for many years after the war. To forget about the massacre now would be an added insult to the victims. Southard has helped to make sure this will not happen yet.”  — New York Times Book Review
“American politicians debating the nuclear deal with Iran would do well to spend some time with Southard’s Nagasaki. It does not tell us what to do. It only reminds us of the stakes.”  — Washington Post 
“Monumental…a riveting, if chilling plunge into nuclear realities.”  — TomDispatch 
“Despite the gravity of her subject, Southard writes in an engaging narrative style that propels the reader through the phantasmagoric horrors of nuclear extermination and its aftermath.”—Japan Times
“[A] reminder of just how horrible nuclear weapons are.”  — The Wall Street Journal
"Southard performs a great service in rescuing their stories from extinction. Seventy years on, as our memories fade, this book horrifyingly and sometimes beautifully brings the events and their aftermath alive again—and forces us to reexamine the supposed rationale for inflicting such misery.”  — David Pilling, Asia Editor, Financial Times and author of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival
“Grimly excellent…the grace and resilience of these survivors actually works to infuse the latter portions of her book with an air of the last thing readers might expect from a book of this kind: hope.”  — The National 
“Timely, masterful storytelling... A crucial, historical record woven with lessons learned that we must not forget.”  — Lucy Birmingham, co-author of Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
“A powerful and poignant account of the impact of nuclear war on civilians.”  — Tulsa World
“Based on years of interviews and research, this account of the physical, emotional, and social fallout of surviving such an event will be a testimony like no other.”  — Biographile