Fat Man and Little Boy by Mike MeginnisThere are a hundred ways to make a man into a bomb. But can a bomb become a person?
I really loved this book. I received it as a first-reads giveaway and am providing an honest review. I read it in small pieces, a chapter or two each night. Each chapter was a gem. I saw that some people consider this book to be magical realism, but I dont think thats the right term for it. Magical realism is about the blurring of the line between imagination and reality and argues that what we imagine is just as real as anything else. In most MR books, though, there is someone doing the imagining. FM&LB is much more existential. If we really need to categorize this book, lets call it an allegory. Fat Man and Little Boy are the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in this story they take on lives of their own. They become people, brothers, who must make their way out of the wreckage of Japan and into the further consequences of their creation. All of us live with the consequences of having been made, and none of us had any choice in the matter.
The fathers of these bombs gave them human names, if impersonal ones. Language is funny this way. We cant help but picture things that are named. If the universal pronoun is he, then those who read he on the page will picture someone male, or at least will fail to picture someone female, x-ing half the race out of the universal. A little boy is different from a fat man. Already the bombs are assigned personas.
Little boy remains stunted, unable to grow. He is everyones little brother, even though he is the firstborn. For a long time he is unable to speak. After all, having vaporized 100,000 people is a huge burden for a little boy. Little Boy was a one-off, a projectile-driven explosion. Hell never get an erection. Fat Man never stops expanding. Yet, people are drawn to him, they even fall in love with him. Fat Man was an implosion bomb. His energy is inward. He grows by swallowing. He is the prototype for all the subsequent bombs.
Though Fat Man is nice. He means well. He has an American Innocence about him. Where Little Boy is the American ostrich, the one who doesnt want to know, who just wants to remain little, Fat Man is the friendly, curious, adaptive American, the one who looks but doesnt change. Who thinks or at least hopes that Good Works and Good Intentions can undo many crimes.
Fat Man feels deeply. Hes moved by the memorabilia found in the hotel he helps build--on the site of a German concentration camp in France. This may be the worst thing that ever happened, he says of the Holocaust to Little Boy, a comment worth pondering. Was it? In terms of what, numbers (Stalin killed more)? The singling out of an ethnic/religious group (though the Germans had it in for the Slavs too, and were already well on their way to eliminating the Roma (in fact they took more, percentage-wise, of the Roma than of the Jews, and for some reason having nothing to do with eugenics, Jehovahs Witnesses)? Or was this what Fat Man needed to tell himself, what Americans need to tell themselves, about his existence? That the bombs are not the worst thing? Its not clear, nor does it need to be. Its enough to have these two holocausts in contact with one another on the page. (And note the hotel, built by an American, on the site of a concentration camp. Happy-face American Innocence again... as an aside, in The People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck discusses a family that does great evil to one of its children without any apparent awareness of what its doing. I bring this up only because Pecks argument, which resonates with me, applies, I feel, to American Innocence in general: that evil done unconsciously may be the greatest of all.)
As the brothers move from Japan and through France, they infect everything they touch with mold and spores. Without touching women, they impregnate them... at first this seems odd. How can the agents of such destruction be so generative. But their creative energy is warped. They spew decay. The children, at first, are born disfigured, unfinished, tumor-laced. Finally, a Japanese mystic explains. The spores, the babies--all attempts by the souls lost in the explosion to reincarnate. They were ripped too suddenly from their lives and theyre fighting for a way back in.
That would be karma for you.
And of course, as Fat Man and Little Boy (now called John and Matthew, both names that translate roughly as gift from God) settle into their lives in France, the nuclear arsenals are multiplying worldwide. Their family is growing. The corruption is spreading.
Meanwhile, the more human these bombs become, the more they are integrated into our lives, the more they are accepted. And the more the thousands of lost souls accept their fate. The more used to themselves the bombs become. People come from all over the world to conceive children at this hotel on the site of a concentration camp. But now they are born in a more natural way. The babies are healthy.
All along Fat Man and Little Boy have been trying very hard not to explode again. Then the brothers take a trip to America....
I had a couple of nits... didnt like how the author would sometimes refer to John and Matthew as the brother bombs, instead of just sticking with the conceit of brothers. Also, it took them entirely too long to figure out how to bathe. I couldnt believe that people--women, in France--would invite them into their homes in the described-at-length filth in which they first appeared. I suppose this might be a metaphor for how easily we DO accept whats filthy into our lives, but if so it needed something else to make me understand how easily they were accepted into society... invited into homes, hired at restaurants, with very little recoil from other people.
Nevertheless, a good part of the story is the journey from corruption and into mainstream, which of course is the story of the bombs. Something that was unmitigatedly bad became complex and sometimes useful, if not good. For that reason, the grotesquerie of the first half of the book is important, if challenging to some readers, and then the long period of well-being is all the more horrifying.
Which brings me to my only substantive criticism of the book. The long period in France did seem a to lag a bit. Almost as if the author, as well as his characters, were afraid to face the music. Or, in this case, the movie. Because to reckon with America, and to what its made of the bombs, you have to reckon with Hollywood, no?
Which is what does happen in the book, eventually. Theres nothing wrong with the basic arc, but I thought the time spent on the middle vs the ending sections was a possibly a little disproportionate. I also wasnt sure why France (vs, say Russia, or otherwise tracking the adoption of nuclear weapons technology around the world), except that perhaps France is the nation thats grown most comfortable with nukes. Or else it has something to do with existentialism, not sure. It does seem significant that the brothers fatten or at least grow comfortable in a Western country, far from the ruin theyve wreaked. I thought there might be more tension in having these personified bombs encounter the paradoxes of post-bomb American culture earlier and at more length. This happens to some extent, but I thought there might have been more opportunities. I wondered if the author held back a bit so as not to become too heavy-handed with the allegory. Perhaps the strengths and limitations of allegory both served and disserved the story. I only know that I chafed a bit when we wandered more deeply into the brothers lives, and perked up when there seemed to be more that was being said about history and culture and society.
But I was entranced by this book, chapter-by-chapter. Its a fresh look at ourselves. And the writing is gorgeous, too. I found myself, like many of the people in the book itself, wanting the best for these two lost souls.
Some samples. Keep in mind that were talking about nuclear bombs. Read a few of these and youll probably see why I gave this book 5 stars:
He remembers the mother squatting on the toilet as her daughter squats now in what is like their living room. He remembers the frenzy of the pigs, their midnight meal, a feast of night soil. It all must be connected but the only connection he can find is that he saw all these things.
The baby rolls like an empty jar. Little Boy knows what its like to explode. Its like this.
Fat Man knows that he is screaming, has known from the start. He means to continue.
What he means is that he only knows a little [Japanese]. What he means is that it was no use. What he means is he rejects the language. He rejects the country. He rejects the evidence case and everything within, not because its wrong but because its not enough.
The soon-to-be hotelier to the Japanese medium: ...is it your experience that the dead are, on the whole, more wise than the living? Not at all, says the medium.
The medium to her audience: Women, guard your wombs. This man and this boy are haunted, haunted by tens of thousands. They killed them all, ladies... Now these people and children follow them wherever they go, jostling for a chance to be born again near them, whether as infants or livestock or rot. Do you want a ghost in your belly?
He fills his glass. The water smells a little strange out here, hes noticed. Waters different everywhere, and no one wants to talk about it.
Shes always been pretty, just as her mother was always pretty, and they discussed--in hushed, secret tones--the horror and the tragedy of life as an Ugly Person. Everyone is beautiful inside, said her mother, but most people dont take the time or trouble to find out. I would hate to be the sort of person you had to know to love.
On the names theyve acquired, John and Matthew: Why oh why did I name myself John? Whats wrong with John? says Little Boy... [John] means Yahweh is gracious, says Fat Man. I dont see whats wrong with that. What does mine mean? ... Fat Man flips to the Ms. It means Gift of Yahweh. Ugh. Yours is even worse. Theyre like the same thing. Yours states specifically that you were given to the world by God, but does not specify a reason or an end. Its the worst thing you could be called.
Fat Man cannot explain...why he didnt tell about the gun; there was guilt in being on the wrong end of a weapon.
Widows ought to get more for what we give up, says Rosie. If hed have lived after he hung from his parachute in the that tree--if theyd shot him just enough times that he could still be saved--they would have had to spend probably thousands patching him up, keeping him in the hospital, attaching prosthesis. Then training him in the use of his new hands. Theyre lucky he died. They only have to pay me my allowance. Theyre better off if the wounded soldiers die. Thats called a perverse incentive.
The medium (who is also a failed kamikaze pilot): Firebombing held no mystery for him. It was a stupid way to kill another person. No risk, no romance, only a city become an oven.
And the sun rises yellow, and the sky is clear. The grass tilts in the breeze, and people forget the war, or they remember everything else.
He was my soul mate. It didnt make me happy. ... Ive told you how I begged him not to go to war. Ive told you how, when I heard that he was dead, I was as relieved as I was miserable. Sometimes the perfect thing is the wrong thing. But do I make you happy? You dont make me happy, says Rosie. Nobody makes anybody happy. Thats not how it works. What makes people happy then? Nothing does. They feel about the same from the beginning to the end, regardless of what happens to them and who they meet. We cause only little fluctuations in each other, I think. I have always been mostly unhappy and afraid. Sometimes you give me happy fluctuations. Sometimes sad ones. Im grateful for both.
The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima - The Daily 360 - The New York Times
"Little Boy" was the codename for the type of atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August during World War II. The "Fat Man" was round and fat so it was named after Kasper Gutman, a rotund Little Boy was named by others as an allusion to Thin Man, since it was based on its design.
But declassified pictures shed light on the preparations for the bombings — the first and only wartime nuclear bombings in history. While seemingly mundane, these photos show us what it was like to prepare for one of the most important moments in modern history. First seen on AlternativeWars. An earlier version of this post was composed by Christian Storm. World globe An icon of the world globe, indicating different international options. Search icon A magnifying glass.
An explosive nuclear chain reaction occurs when a sufficient quantity of nuclear fuel, such as uranium or plutonium, is brought together to form a critical mass. Dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, , it was the first nuclear weapon used in a war.
you had me at meow book
For a detailed timeline of the bombings, please see Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing Timeline. On August 6, , the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The bomb was known as "Little Boy", a uranium gun-type bomb that exploded with about thirteen kilotons of force. At the time of the bombing, Hiroshima was home to ,, civilians as well as 43, soldiers. Between 90, and , people are believed to have died from the bomb in the four-month period following the explosion. The U. Department of Energy has estimated that after five years there were perhaps , or more fatalities as a result of the bombing, while the city of Hiroshima has estimated that , people were killed directly or indirectly by the bomb's effects, including burns, radiation sickness, and cancer.
A gun-type fission weapon, the Little Boy design utilized uranium to create its nuclear reaction. Tibbets, Jr. The first approach pursued by the project was the use of enriched uranium to create a weapon, as this material was known to be fissionable. To meet the project's needs, enriched uranium production began at a new facility in Oak Ridge, TN in early Around the same time, scientists began experimenting with various bomb prototypes at the Los Alamos Design Laboratory in New Mexico. Early work focused on "gun-type" designs which fired one piece of uranium into another to create a nuclear chain reaction.