The Big One

“At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house …”

So begins HiroshimaJohn Hersey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning essay (later turned into a book) following the plight of six people during and after the bombing of the Japanese city during World War II. Hersey’s 31,000-word essay was the sole piece of writing published in the August 31, 1965 issue of The New Yorker, something The New Yorker had never done until then, and hasn’t done since. (I love that fact that the cover of the issue, pictured above, did not give readers any hint of about what they were in for when they opened its pages.)

Given Hersey’s incredible eye for compelling and unique detail, I thought that reading the opening paragraph of Hiroshima (which ends with these words: “At the time, none of them knew anything.”) and then using it as a model for a piece of prose or poetry describing the whereabouts of a character or characters and what they were doing the exact moment of another historical event (or fictional event) in human history would make for an excellent writing prompt.

In any event, happy Memorial Day.