Monday, April 14, 2008

Folding Paper Cranes

I know...another book review...boring.

My mother-in-law started a family book club a couple of years ago where she would buy a bunch of books and then mail them to all of the girls. We were supposed to read it and then mail it on to the next person. In theory, we were all supposed to have different books at different times but eventually all end up reading the same things. Also, in theory, we were supposed to write down our thoughts and leave them in the book. I don't think either of those things happened. Books would build up in certain houses (totally guilty of it), or not read. For whatever reason, I thought it had fizzled out. But, last week, my sister-in-law mailed me two books that I'm assuming are part of the book club. One was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which I've already read) and this book.

It's a small book and the first thirty pages totally hooked me. Unfortunately, from about page 31 kept losing me. It's a travel log, op ed of a man who served in the Marine's during World War II and then part of a group of military "volunteers" who were sent to experience what ground zero is like immediately after a thermonuclear explosion conducted in Nevada during the fifties. After witnessing the horrors of nuclear power, he left the armed services, used his GI bill to get a PhD and teaches literature at a small college in Colorado.

The title comes from a peace monument in Hiroshima. After the A-bomb destroyed the city, the survivors were called the Hibakusha. They were broken and wanted to teach peace and built this park to encourage the world to change. One twelve year old girl with radiation poisoning started folding paper cranes. According to Japanese tradition, folding one thousand paper cranes brings good luck but she died before she could finish. Her classmates finished her quest and a monument now stands where children bring folded paper cranes in honor of her.

I appreciated the author's effort. The world needs to be reminded about the devastation that nuclear explosions create...from the immediate carnage to the radiation fallout (the author himself had suffered bone cancer). But the book lacks structure and too often preaches down. His transitions were choppy and inner dialogue corny. I finished feeling disappointed that he had squandered away his chance of using his experiences as something meaningful and motivating. I had hoped for a better book.

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