Theodore Taylor, |
(Harcourt 1995, 2007)
In 1945 and 1946, Theodore Taylor was part of the Navy team conducting Operation Crossroads, a project to find a location for the test detonation of two nuclear bombs. The Navy chose Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, regardless of its tiny native population. The people would be relocated to Rongarik, another atoll, convinced by the island's military governor, a Navy commodore, that it was God's will that they move and that they would be able to return to their homes in a couple of years.
The bombs turned the beautiful island paradise into a nuclear wasteland; when a handful of people returned after Lyndon Johnson declared Bikini Atoll "safe" for habitation, they were devastated by the destruction. Those who stayed learned the hard way that the island was not, in fact, safe. They were poisoned slowly by the radioactive Casium 137 that was still present in the sand.
It took Taylor nearly 50 years to tell the story of the A-bomb tests on Bikini Atoll. His narrator is 16-year-old Sorry Rinamu, who survives the Japanese occupation of his island only to become suspicious of the U.S. military men who rescued his people. His questions about the explosion lead him to understand that his home will be gone forever, not just for a few years. Sorry, his grandfather Jonjen and the island's teacher Tara, make an ill-fated decision to try to stop the bombing. Only too late does Sorry realize that his mission is doomed to failure.
While Rinamu is a longstanding family name on the atoll, Sorry is fictional. Taylor uses the character to form a personal connection between the events and the reader. Through Sorry, the reader learns about the island's history of occupation by different nations and how the Americans do not give the people much of a sense that they are any different. The Americans treat the islanders like children who can be easily steered, but they don't count on Sorry's uncle Abram, who comes up with a plan to stop the bombing. Abram's sudden death seems to be the end of his plans until Sorry decides to carry out the scheme.
Sorry is an intelligent and sympathetic character in his own right, but Taylor clearly seeks to expiate his own guilt through Sorry as well. One wonders whether Taylor's choice of name for his protagonist is in part a reflection of his regret. That Sorry's mission is doomed is a foregone conclusion, and it is that sense of doom that marches through the narrative, bringing it to its inexorable end. Periodic pages outlining the history of the atomic bomb and Operation Crossroads, one heavy block of text at a time, anchors the story in its grim reality.
In spite of the results of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in spite of the destruction of Bikini Atoll, atomic weapons are still considered a reasonable means of conflict resolution. In that context, the haunting antiwar song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" still asks a pertinent question: "When will they ever learn?"
book review by
28 May 2011
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