“A Song for Nagasaki” is a biography of Takashi Nagai, written by Paul Glynn. It follows Takashi from his birth through his medical schooling and career in radiology, his conversion from Shinto to Atheism to Catholicism, his experience of the Atomic Bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II, his suffering and death due to cancer from excessive radiation exposure, and the impact Takashi had within Japanese culture both during and after his lifetime.
What made this biography particularly enjoyable for me is that it oftentimes reads as a work of fiction, in that, rather than merely listing off a book-length’s worth of facts about Nagai, it succeeds in taking the reader on a journey with Nagai as we explore his life, thoughts, struggles, and experiences. I felt as if I was walking a couple of feet behind Nagai as he traveled to University. I could feel his ache as he tried to figure out how to tell his father about his conversion to Christianity without it coming off as a betrayal to his family. I could hear the silence, the lack of life, when he poured through the rubble that was once his home after the bomb wiped it away.
The reader does not just learn about Nagai, but actually gets to know him as a person. Intimacy is the first word that comes to mind when I think of what this book accomplishes. I feel close to Nagai as a relative or friend, caring for him and his family, rooting for him to achieve his goals, mourning the losses of those dearest to him. The mix of emotions that naturally accompany this intimacy as you read ‘A Song for Nagasaki’ is a true testament to both the character of Nagai as well as the success of the author.
And the author perfectly places this intimacy within the context of Nagai’s deep love for Christ and His Body. We see this, for example, at the end of his life, dying of cancer and yet using what little time he has left to spread the Gospel message throughout Japan by means of writing. His book “The Bells of Nagasaki” is probably the most famous of his works, gruesomely detailing his experience of the Atomic Bomb and its affereffects, all the while using his love of God and neighbor to preach a Gospel of mercy and forgiveness to the people and country that bombed them.
Takashi Nagai became, and remains to this day, one of the most beloved people in Japanese history. Many outside of Japan may not have heard of him, and are all the worse for it. As a Catholic, I could not miss the perpetual message witnessed throughout Nagai’s life of loving God with your whole heart and being grateful for the gifts and graces God has given you, even, and especially, in the face of emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering.
If you have an account on formed.org there is an audiobook of “A Song for Nagasaki” for free.