Hiroshima

by: John Hersey

Dr. Terufumi Sasaki

A twenty-five-year-old surgeon at the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima, Dr. Sasaki is hardworking, idealistic, and ambitious. We learn the extent of his selflessness early, when Hersey describes how he risks penalties by treating sick patients in the suburbs without a permit. As the only physician at the hospital who is unharmed in the explosion, he treats thousands of the dying and wounded people of Hiroshima. Dr. Sasaki contributes to important medical advances in the analysis and treatment of radiation sickness after the bombing, and for years he spends most of his time trying to remove keloids—the red, rubbery scars that grow over severe burns—only to discover that much of his work caused more damage than good. He later leaves the city to set up a private clinic, distance himself from his gruesome memories, and make a clean start.

We are kept at more of an emotional distance from Dr. Sasaki than from any other character. This distance emphasizes how Dr. Sasaki does not seek recognition or praise for his hard work. Thus, it is a bit shocking when he expresses his anger by saying that those responsible for the bomb should be hanged, but at the same time we see how he was deeply traumatized by his experiences after the bombing. While other characters attempt to simply continue on with their lives, Dr. Sasaki makes a break with the past by leaving the hospital. This drastic action suggests a deep level of suffering and a desperate need to forget what he experienced. Hersey illustrates Dr. Sasaki’s emotional disengagement from the bomb victims with a memorable turn of phrase: “He lived enclosed in the present tense.”