Horror of Hiroshima inspires Frenchman’s haunting love story


Ever since he was little, Christophe Boubal, a French novelist, has been interested in writing and Japan.

His grandfather owned the famous Cafe de Flore in Paris where renowned intellectuals including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met and talked.

“I was able to spend my childhood in the center of a bright literary scene,” Boubal told The Japan Times through an interpreter during a recent visit to Japan.

Born in 1960, the young Boubal was also drawn into Japanese culture because his mother liked to collect Asian antiques. The judo he learned at age 6 also fueled his interest in Japan, he recalled.

As a writer, his literary inspiration and love for Japan came together and yielded the novel “Ombres d’Hiroshima” (“Shadow of Hiroshima”).

The novel is a love story set in Hiroshima right after the 1945 atomic bombing and then shifts to Paris, where the main characters, a Japanese man and his son, keep having eerie encounters with women who are presumably avatars of a female victim in Hiroshima.

“I decided to write this novel because the atomic bombing is one of the three incidents that shocked the foundation of this planet,” he writes in the afterword of the novel, noting the other two are the births of humanity and Jesus Christ. “On Aug. 6, 1945, humans got to know that they obtained the power to destroy everything,” Boubal writes.

He recalled an encounter that strongly set him on the course for the novel.

One day in 1996 or ’97, he was at the Louvre Museum with a Japanese friend and they saw a woman with severe facial burns. The Japanese friend told him she had survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Although he did not directly interact with the woman, he said he could not forget her face, and the encounter made him feel compelled to work on the novel.

“If I hadn’t seen her, I probably would not have written the novel,” Boubal said, noting that a character based on this woman appears in the story.

After poring over more than 20 books to research the atomic bombings, he flew to Japan and visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1999.

“I was so moved, my heart turned upside down,” said Boubal, who also took part in the annual memorial service for A-bomb victims in Hiroshima.

He finished the book the same year in Tokyo, and it was published as his first novel in France in 2005. It was translated into Japanese and released here the following year.

Boubal said he waited until 2004 to approach publishers because he wanted the novel to come out in 2005 — the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The book is a love story because “an atomic bomb is a very tragic and hateful theme. Something that contrasts with that theme is love,” Boubal said.

He made the novel’s main characters Japanese and used his love of Japan for inspiration in how he portrayed their minds and thoughts.

“I love Japan and have Japanese friends from a long time ago,” said Boubal, who has visited here more than 20 times. “I wanted to know the Japanese mind and really tried hard to reach that level to write the story.”

Although it is still uncertain, a film version of the novel might come out someday because a Japanese director has expressed interest, a public relations representative of the writer said.

Boubal said the experience of writing the novel made him aware that the terror that happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki can still happen today.

“The number of countries that possess this deadly weapon has been increasing,” Boubal writes in the book, adding he hopes the novel reaches the hearts of the Japanese people and encourages discussions about nuclear weapons.

“I think this is not just a problem for Japan, but for the rest of the world,” he said.