Unlike Hiroshima, Nagasaki lies in a series of narrow valleys bordered by mountains in the east and west. The bomb exploded about 500 m. (1,625 ft.) above the ground and directly beneath it (the hypocentre) was a suburb of schools, factories, and private houses. The radius of destruction for reinforced concrete buildings was 750 m. (2,437 ft.), greater than at Hiroshima where the blast caused by the bomb was more vertical. But because of the topography, and despite the Nagasaki bomb being more powerful, only about sq. km. ( sq. mi.) of Nagasaki was reduced to ashes compared with 13 sq. km. (5 sq. mi.) of Hiroshima. Of the 51,000 buildings in the city % were completely destroyed or burt, with % escaping any damage.
Hersey’s narrative is limited by the emotional distance of his characters; he cannot share the psychological problems that victims may face unless they describe those problems to him. At the same time, we could also argue that those characters who do face severe mental problems in the aftermath of the explosion are given fairly short shrift in the book. Mr. Fukai, the secretary who presumably threw himself into the flames, is mentioned only briefly, although such a story has potential for enormous psychological impact. The same goes for Mrs. Kamai, the woman who walks around clutching her dead baby in her arms—Mr. Tanimoto turns his back on her, and we are spared any more discussion of her fate. Other possible reasons for the lack of psychological depth are the stoicism and pride of the Japanese people and Hiroshima survivors, who remain emotionally distant from the events. Toshio Nakamura is an interesting case. Hersey allows Toshio’s account to end the original book, using his school report as a kind of window into a child’s mind and perspective. Toshio’s account, however, is noteworthy for how undisturbed, but nonetheless disturbing, it is. Perhaps because we expect the characters to be more psychologically affected, the deadpan accounts are especially disconcerting. On the other hand, Hersey may have been unable to fully interview those people who were mentally and emotionally disturbed by the explosion, and that may account for the book’s lack of psychological depth.
According to Cameron (2005), 226,598 officially certified survivors of the atomic bombings are still alive in Japan today. The actual number of hibakusha is likely much larger, as many could not meet the strict and sometimes subjective qualifications for certification, while others have left Japan. The average age of these witnesses, however, is now seventy-three. Most have been struggling with radiation-related illness for much of their lives, and death will surely have silenced the majority of them by the seventieth anniversary of the bombing in 2015 (Cameron, 2005).