2 Focus Points and Themes Dennis Bock, being neither historian nor scientist, is asking questions that can be tackled only through fiction. Both the novel’s themes and writing style illustrate the spirit of the following quotes:All that non-fiction can do is answer questions. It’s fiction’s business to ask them. (Richard Hughes)Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world. (Albert Einstein)
3 Bock’s focus…Like Emiko, Bock starts only with a premise, “a time and a place,” and he then lets the story take him to his final conclusions.• The nature of decisions – how they are made (the path of choosing) and how they are viewed (the perspective).• The aftermath of the decision – who are the victims? What is the responsibility of the decision-maker to the victim? Is there the possibility of justification?• The consequences and the cost of the decision – what is the measure of grief and loss? Can blame be assigned?• The possibility of reconciliation, renewal, forgiveness.
4 The DecisionEach character makes decisions without looking forward to possible outcomesAs a documentary-maker, Emiko doesn’t like to commit herself to a storyboard that would outline the form of her film – its beginning, middle, and end. This is how she approaches Anton – free, flowing, she will direct her film in the end.Sophie creates free-form sculpture. Her creatures are faceless, they are less identifiable, which allows each viewer to form his or her personal perspective as to what they actually represent.As a scientist, Anton is committed to the world of pure ideas. He and the other scientists are working on the idea of nuclear power. What it will bring to the world is not under consideration at this stage of the investigation. They realize this energy could be harnessed to end the current war… this insight led to the development of the atomic bomb.
5 The Path of the Decision – Fate vs. Choice Before and during the war, scientists like Anton methodically worked on their ideas seeking ideological scientific perfection. Ironically, they lacked the imagination to see where their quest would take them. They simply acted.Was the dropping of the bomb an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of fate, or were there other choices that could and should have been made?When Anton chose to leave the scientific institute in Germany to work in the West, he knew he would cause his family irreparable harm, possibly even death. Because he views himself as a “refugee of conscience,” Anton understands better than anyone that if a person makes the wrong choice, perhaps for the wrong reason, he/she must forever live with the consequences. Anton has chosen to look at his decision as a necessary evil, “a decision, any decision, is justified in the heat of the war.” (10)
6 Emiko never really questions the deaths of her parents Emiko never really questions the deaths of her parents. It is within the character of the Japanese to be fatalistic, to accept one’s situation or fate, and to blindly follow direction. “This was our lot … We had been taught to accept death as an inevitable consequence of life …” (40)Emiko believes she had no choice in the aftermath of the war. She came to America at her grandfather’s request, but we see that once she was healed, grew up, and established herself, she chose to stay. She was secretly grateful for the opportunity. “[She] always knew too well what life held for a woman like the one [she] had narrowly avoided becoming.” (110)She learns also that she was targeted twice: first, as an indiscriminate victim of the bomb, and secondly, as Anton’s deliberate choice.
7 The Aftermath: victim, responsibility, cost Each of the choices led to fateful consequences. Who is to judge the outcome – the victim, the perpetrator, the decision-maker? Who is responsible for the outcome and aftermath? What is the cost to each participant?
8 The Aftermath - victimAnton claims, “we did what needed to be done … I’m not saying it was for the betterment of humanity … It was to finish the war, to finish the work others had started. That was our aim, and we achieved that aim.” (202)Sophie, Emiko, and Anton are each a victim and a survivor at the same time.Psychologically, people need to resolve their grief and loss in order to move forward in their lives. Each character remarkably creates a viable life in the face of disaster despite the gravity of their losses.
9 Emiko…Emiko appears to lose the most. In addition to losing her family, she loses her way of life, her heritage, and her face. On the other hand, she is given a chance to start anew in America and she becomes a famous, successful filmmaker. When she and Anton face each other, she feels as though she is about to lose still more. Things were shifting too quickly under my feet. I didn’t know it yet in so many words, but I had already lost the sense of control I had brought with me. (p.211)
10 Anton…Anton loses his family – makes a personal sacrifice for the greater good. His loss had been of a different sort. He had chosen to leave his mother behind, with a full awareness of what often happened to the relatives of intellectuals who fled the country. Sacrifices had been required of them all, but his had been deliberate and foregone. (p.99)
11 Sophie…Sophie literally loses her family, and figuratively she loses Anton as well. When he returns from Japan, he can no longer share his feelings and emotions with her and has no patience for her pain. It was as if that blast had destroyed the ability to see beyond himself. (66)Both Anton and Sophie lose the hope of having children due to the prevailing views of the time about lupus. Each accepts the pain of this fact by not blaming each other. That was one thing they agreed on, deep in the bones – that happiness, pleasure, fulfillment were goals suitable only for the naïve and foolish or extremely lucky … That single impalpable grey area that shifted between them [was] … the failure of family and time. (p.89)
12 Responsibility – Who is to blame? Bock focuses on the behaviour of the characters and their ability to consciously remove themselves from facing the reality of their actions by concentrating on unrelated ideas. It is by thinking abstractly that they are able to keep moving forward without guilt.
13 Anton…Anton and the scientists lived inside their heads, in the theoretical realm of analyzing a problem and finding a solution.When you are possessed of a driving need to live in the theoretical world … a desert is just the place … Anything [is] possible there. If need be, you might even create your own universe. (p.264)How could they have unleashed this horror on the world without knowing what would result?
14 When the girls were chosen for reconstructive surgery in the States, they were met with the uninformed, self-justified prying of the Americans they met… “Do you like America?”The irony of their appearance on the television show This is Your Life was that it helped kick off a telethon to raise money for a Pearl Harbor memorial.
15 The idea of responsibility can only be measured in the context of motivation, perspective and outcome. While it is easy to assume that the perpetrator is solely accountable, the novel questions this assumption by presenting other sides of the issue. Responsibility is measured against each character’s sense of self-justification.
16 Emiko challenges Anton’s action of bringing her to America, but the challenge is also meant for his contribution to the aftermath of the dropping of the bomb.“Who are you?” she said. “Who are you to do that?” … What gave you the right? …. You kidnapped my life. (Emiko, p.262)
17 CostThe cost to Emiko and hundreds of thousands of others was the loss of family, country, and way of life. The cost to the world was the loss of belief in a power greater than man’s capacity for evil.
18 Conclusions – reconciliation, the gift, renewal Anton never really reconciles with himself. He is still too frightened by the thought of “what would have happened if we’d failed. That is what keeps me up at night.” (p.189)Sophie never fully comes to terms with the absence of family and children in her life. The war robbed her of the family of her past; lupus robbed her of the family of her future.
19 Emiko…Emiko never reconciles herself with the loss of her grandfather; she calmly accepts the fact of it. But now she is thrown into the drama of Sophie’s death and Anton’s life by the strange forces of reconciliation.… The uncertainty with which I walked through this old man’s life was more profoundly unbalancing than anything I’d experienced in years. (p.237)Emiko must reconcile with death, not necessarily with Anton.
20 The GiftEmiko is consoled by the fact that her parents died at the same time. She views this as a “rare gift in the legacy of my family’s suffering.” (p.23)Anton gives Emiko two gifts: a) the gift of a new face, which means a new life and b) the gift of truth so that she might finally know what her grandfather sacrificed for her.
21 Despite her awareness that Anton is responsible for the blood of hundreds of thousands of other wives, husbands, children, Emiko absolves him of guilt in Sophie’s case. She tells Anton that he gave Sophie the gift of death. “That was your last gift to her.” (p.251)
22 Renewal and Possibility Every character in the novel lives a life that is changed by events beyond each individual’s control, but each one’s life offers new options and a hope that new things are still possible.Emiko – still a possibility of a healing moment where she experiences a “slow glistening approach of silver on the last day of my first life” (275)The realization that Emiko is “free of the quiet desperation that had held her for so long, having learned of… Grandfather’s great secret.” (278)Once she is released she sees in the garden the illusion of grandfather’s faceEmiko finally rids of a lifetime of illusions…. Once the dream is stripped of its majesty, all that is left is reality. That is the place to start…
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