Posts Tagged ‘Charles Pellegrino’

kapoho line

book signing kapoho

This is a quote from a statement made yesterday by someone:

“The Japanese do not talk about earthquakes, volcanoes, etc….”

So here I am at the Volcano National Park, signing my book: Kapoho:

Memoir of a Modern Pompeii. I begin my stories with Pearl Harbor and end with the lava

destroying my home village, Kapoho.

Below, I’m holding Charles Pellegrino’s book: To Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima at Barnes and Noble. The voices of  the survivors of Hiroshima echo out of the pages. And yes, we are all Japanese, btw.

b&n 1






Read Full Post »

cover hell and back

Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima by Charles Pellegrino

Before my mother died, she left me with a nagging thought. She told the minister, “ Don’t let me be forgotten.” What if all my ancestors in Hiroshima had said this? What if my grandparents or their parents and their parents had said that, too? I know nothing of them until today. They have remained statistics without names or personhood, except for the surnames of both my grandfathers: Kakugawa and Takahashi. Until today, I have carelessly referred to every member of my Hiroshima family as “my ancestors who were killed in the Hiroshima bombing.”

Today, they have risen out of the shadows because of Dr. Charles Pellegrino’s newly published book, Hell and Back: The Last Train from Hiroshima. My ancestors have become real people. They are children, teenagers, young adults, mothers and fathers and grandparents. They are children who went to school on an empty stomach because of war rations and of their mothers who would try to find forgiveness by leaving their special food on their children’s graveside for the rest of their lives. They all have a voice.

The story begins in Hiroshima at the first flash of the bomb and ends at Nagasaki and beyond. Approximately 300 people from the smoldering city of Hiroshima fled to safety to Nagasaki. Nagasaki was home to many of these survivors. 90% of them were killed by the second bomb. Thirty people survived the second atomic bomb in Nagasaki to become double survivors. One known survivor would experience radiation for the third time in Fukushima.

This story is told through the voices of the survivors of the bombings. Pellegrino preserves that part of history with his forensic and archeological expertise along with his poetic and masterful use of language. It is not a generic history but a very personal and humanistic one. It is not a political story, it is a story of humanity. It is not a story of blame, it is a story of forgiveness and hope for our future children.

Pellgrino had originally published a riveting book titled : Last Train From Hiroshima. After publication, more survivors sought Pellegrino to tell their stories, stories that were silenced for 70 years. Their message is clearly told…what they experienced must not happen again. What happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki must not be forgotten, ever for the sake of our children.

Each time Pellegrino brought forth the story of a child, a teenager, a mother or father, I saw them as my ancestors. Ancestors I haven’t thought of as real people.

On pages 43-44, 14 year old boy Akihiro Takahashi’s story is told with uncensored description of the people he saw that day. Pellegrino calls it the un-gloving where skin is burned away and only flesh remains. Takahashi bears many of these scars.

Twenty five years later, in Washington D.C., Takahashi met the pilot of the plane who dropped the bomb and here is part of their conversation:

Pilot Tibbets sees the scars on Takahashi’s hands. “Is this the effect of the A-bomb?”
Takahashi: “Yes, we must overcome the pain, sorrow, and hatred of the past—and {we must} work together to make sure that people never experience this gain.”

Tibbets: I understand but I would have to do the same thing, under the same circumstances; because once war breaks out. Soldiers can do nothing but follow orders.”

Takahashi said later, “Among humankind’s abilities, it is said imagination is the weakest and forgetfulness the strongest. We cannot by any means, however, forget Hiroshima, and we cannot lose the ability to abolish war. Hiroshima is not just a historical fact. It is a warning and a lesson for the future.”

My mother’s voice echoes back. I need to believe that Akihiro Takahashi was one of my ancestors. My mother’s maiden name was Takahashi.

On Page 208, Pellegrino speaks of Kiwanu who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet, a third time.

Kiwanu had chosen, as his family’s place of refuge, the pristine-appearing fields of Fukushima. On March 11, 2011, he would suddenly come to a special unity of feeling with the Kakugawa family, whose members had departed Hiroshima ahead of the war, seeking the illusory peace of a farming community in Hawaii. To the west of Kapoho Village lay beautiful Pearl Harbor/ and somewhat nearer, a scared mountain that would one day bury the entire village beneath a lake of lava.

Many of the names are familiar surnames found in our communities: Sato, Sasaki, Doi, Fujii, Yamaguchi, Nagai, Yoshioka, and many many more, but you don’t need to bear the same name or ethnic background to find meaning in Pellegrino’s words. He speaks for all humanity.

We are all familiar with Sadako and the Thousand Cranes. Sadako’s brother Masahiro asked Pellegrino to continue the legacy of his little sister who made a thousand cranes while dying from cancer.

“I think Omoiyari is the best way to start. The worst way is to call ourselves victims. To say ‘victim’ requires a victimizer, and the victimizer is led to blame; and that starts the cycle of blame…

Sadako understood this theme more personally and more intensely than most people ever will. And she had only enough time to begin teaching anew what most of us have so easily forgotten.”

The survivors who told their stories to Pellegrino are all adults but their memories are from their childhood so these stories are from the children who survived. They are not pretty stories but they are real and a part of who we are. Surely, as Pellegrino and the survivors proposed, each time we do an act of kindness, we honor and remember our ancestors by helping to create a world of peace.

Thank you, Charles Pellegrino, for helping us to not forget all those who have passed before us.
And to my mother, no, you and all those before you, will not be forgotten because there are the Charles Pellegrinos of the world who will painstakingly pick through the mountainous piles of political and historical debris to bring us the human story of all our ancestors. So we carry on this legacy of peace, forgiveness and human kindness in each of their name.

Pellegrino’s book is dedicated to Tomorrow’s Child.

1st published in Hawai’I Herald

Read Full Post »


The 9/11 Memorial is planning to dismantle the Family Room at the Memorial. My dear friend Charlie Pellegrino, who took me to the memorial a few years ago,  lost a family member and good friend on that day. Here is his email received today:

Well… over the past nearly 14 years the family room evolved into America’s largest, most colorful and most haunting example of folk art, created piece-by-piece by family members and friends of the lost


Beginning in the last days of 2001, the room in 1 Liberty Plaza, looking out upon the deathscape, became one of the few places of bright color at the crater – the families chose color, originally, in defiance against the grey, outside. Thousands of kind faces look out from every surface in the room – even from the inner surfaces of the windows – and among them are mementos representing every religion, Muslim, Hindu, a set of rosaries that hung from the picture of Betty Ann Ong… the mournfully beautiful smile of Judy Fernandez… a child’s doll left by the man she grew up to marry… carved angels (lots of angels).


The room has become famous around the world, re-appearing sometimes in the strangest places. It was replicated, in part, and ran regularly through the entire reboot of Battlestar Galactica.


I’ve been helping with the moving of some of the items. I made sure, first and foremost, to protect Mr. Ito’s 1,000 paper cranes (he lost his brother in Hiroshima, and grew up to lose his son in the South Tower). They were damaged already and I would not see them carried away and filed in a storage archive.


Outside at the “Reflecting Absence” pool, the clouds that had given us torrential rains in the early morning broke up into just a thin high-altitude fog, scraping the upper stories of the new Freedom Tower. The sun hitting the windows at just the right angle created streamers of pearly white rainbows – much like the white rainbow we saw while departing the Titanic, in 2001.


I put my hand down on the engraving, “Ladder 4,” followed by their names. Even when this spot was a crater full of granulated bones, I never “lost it.” I had sunglasses on and I just closed my eyes and kept back the tears but my face must have expressed some great pain – because the park around the pools had become quite crowded after the rains stopped, and there were people all around me when I touched the Ladder 4 engraving – and when I looked up, after several minutes, there was no one around me for at least 80 feet in each direction, and within 20 feet behind me. People just gave me an awful lot of space.


I got home and the museum called saying they need some help next week, because in moving things out, I’m one of the few people who knows what most of the objects in the Family Room mean.


At least I can prevent some of the damage (including the separation of objects from their related photographs).


But they should never be dismantling the Family Room in the first place. For the majority of us, it was our graveyard (nothing was ever found of most people). The city could not afford to keep renting that one room in an office building overlooking the site? So, they’re going to let it become an office again, removed from its actual historic context – turned into a place where people will be laughing and getting drunk at Christmas parties, back-stabbing each other, and doing all the other sorrid things that go on in a typical office, as if 14 years of prior history can be wiped away with the pulling down of photographs and a change of furniture – as if it can be erased, as irrelevant, that this was a hall of souls, for nearly 3,000 people?


The carelessness with which some of the objects have already been treated is beyond heartbreak.


See you later,


– – Charlie P.


Read Full Post »

Welcome to the Year of the Horse through the pens of two admired friends: Charles Pellegrino, forensic archeologist and author of many books, my favorites titles appear below…and Takeshi “Thomas” Tanemori, author of Hiroshima : Bridge to Forgiveness:

From Charles Pellegrino:

Though I am not a religious type, I’m often moved by writing that comes from people who are. 

Below is a “Year of the Horse” message from a man who has, through advancing medical technology, recently had his sight mostly restored. As a child Takashi Tanemori was blinded by the Hiroshima bomb, and orphaned by it. Through much suffering (including being swept up by the navy for medical experiments, until adopted by a rebellious American nurse) – well, to freeze-dry his journey: Through great pain came great wisdom. He is an enlightened teacher, what some might call a holy man.


From Takashi Tanemori



Just up the road from my home is a field, with two horses in it.  From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing … Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him. This alone is amazing.


If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field. Attached to the horse’s halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow. As you stand and watch these two friends, you’ll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse, trusts that he will not be led astray. When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back, making sure that the blind friend isn’t too far behind to hear the bell.


Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges. He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives. Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way … Good friends are like that … you may not always see them, but you know they are always there.

Please listen for my bell and I’ll listen for yours.  And remember … be kind…


Some of my favorite books by Charles Pellegrino are Last Train from Hiroshima, new editions for adults and young adults will be out this year, Dust and his Titanic books. Check his other book titles on Amazon.com.

Mr. Tanemori’s book Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness,  is a must read, too.












Read Full Post »

CA Incident

Walk into my home office and  you will know I’m a great fan of Charles Pellegrino because I have all his books displayed with a framed photo of both of us, meeting for the first time in NYC. Some of my favorites are his Dust, his Titanic trilogy, The Killing Star  and the one closest to my heart: Last Train from Hiroshima. He is a brilliant scientist and writer;  I consider Charlie my writing mentor through his writing. I can easily point out his influence on my writing. ( While writing my Kapoho book, I remember saying, “I must do a Charlie here,” and added a paragraph or two.)

This week, his The California Incident  Kindle book was released and I finished it  in a few hours. The Californian was one of the ships near the Titanic that historical night.

This is a bonus, a great bonus to all the Titanic books by Pellegrino. I still don’t know whether the presentation of the story, in its reader friendly font and spacing added to this feeling that I was reading an illustrated book. How he used all his research to present them  in such a freeflowing, easy reading story is fascinating. That’s part of his brilliance, using words  to create images  like photographs or a running film.

In the book,  Walter Lord was asked if he might want to visit the Titanic if he could travel back in time. He  said he “ would love to be a fly on the wall aboard the Californian.”  Pellegrino does just that, for Lord and his readers, putting  us on the wall as a fly. He doesn’t stop there and takes us to all the other ships who were reported to be around the Titanic that night.

This story is a heart-breaking history of men…men who were human in their weakness:  their inability to speak up for truth and to have the courage to go beyond authority.  All  would have saved lives. They were later chained to their own history of grief and shame, as documented by their descendants.

It’s obvious that when Pellegrino does research and writes what he knows, he accomplishes  this with the human reader in mind, with all of his/her senses .

This is also a story of the mysteries of that night, of the numerous ships sighted  around the Titanic.  If there were so many sightings, why didn’t they rush toward the Titanic? Pellegrino  takes us through that mysterious fog.

So the Titanic sank in 1912. Yet, interwoven in the telling are people familiar to us: descendant of lawman Bat Materson, Ian Fleming; one of my favorite books “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” A nice touch. Like ships in constant movement on the sea, he moves the reader through different time – lines with dialogues and compelling  people accounts.

I have read all of his Titanic books and didn’t dream there would another story to tell. I think I know his secret. He has tons of information, but will use them only as needed. There were a few times  I felt, “Oh, this is so good, why didn’t he tell us this in his other books?”
I hope he’s writing another story until his files are all empty.

Read Full Post »

Is it my brain or is it the book?

My brain has been a source of worry these past few months because there are a dozen books I’ve purchased with bookmarks in the first third of each book.    I didn’t even finish the last two selections of my book club and they were no Nora Roberts.  Is this the first lunge into dementia?  Is my brain interfering with one of my great passions in life?  Or could the source  be poorly selected books?

I didn’t need a neurologist to tell me the slightly manufactured Frances truth. Mark Arax, Charles Pellegrino  and Linda Urbach took me through their books to the last page without long pauses to prove that those Amyloid Plaques and Tangles have not become uninvited guests. Not yet.

Linda Urbach’s easy to read novel, “Madame Bovary’s Daughter” led me to reread Emma Bovary by Flaubert.

Rereading  Pellegrino’s earliar books such as  “Dust”  itched me all over, but  taught me to look at our six-legged critters through different lenses. I’m reading his earliar published books (” Return to Sodom and Gomorrah”)  as I impatiently wait for his new edition of Last Train from Hiroshima, a book that changed my life drastically. Pellegrino, in my opinion, is a master story writer and has affected my writing deeply.  My review of Pellegrino’s various books are on my blog.

Mark Arax’s “In My Father’s Name” is a must read, folks, for story told and how it’s told.  His  friendship with William Saroyan as a youngster,  reminded me of the first adult book I read as a kid…My Name is Aram by Saroyan. Is it coincidence that Mark’s grandfather was Aram Arax?  “My Name is Aram” is now on my reading list. I added the following review on Arax’s book on Amazon.com. with slight editing.

A web of pure silk, July 5, 2012

By Frances H. Kakugawa

This review is from: In My Father’s Name (Paperback)

Between the pages of this excellent book, I sent quotations from Saroyan to members of the Northern CA Publishers/ Writers. Imagine having a personal relationship with Saroyan. To my writing support group of caregivers, I sent quotations from his grandfather who suffered from dementia. One reader called it a “capsule of humanity.”  To a former resident of Fresno, I bought this book for her birthday. And for myself, I ignored housework and other to-do lists long after I read the last page. Arax is a craftsman  of language;  he weaves different time and historical periods, people, places into his search to dignify his father. Life is not linear in reality and this is carefully presented in the telling of his story. I paused often to relish the use of language.  I sit here stunned over the ugly life that is part of  Fresno’s history and in awe how Arax turned his story into an art form. At the end, he was the one on the white horse.

So for as long as there are well written books out there, I won’t worry about my brain cells. They definitely know good writing when they see it.

Read Full Post »

Book Review:I’m honored to share the newest book by Charles Pellegrino.

Farewell Titanic: Her Final Legacy

AT long last, the final book to Pellegrino’s Titanic Trilogy. It was worth the long wait. What a master storyteller.  This is what a successful writer does, he takes you along with him, in this instance, down to the Titanic and  introduces you to many of the survivors and those who didn’t survive. You are given the privilege of knowing the lives of the passengers; they are not statistics nor a list of names. He recreates the scenes with words and leaves vivid images in your head. He shares his scientific knowledge, not only with  facts but presents them,  interlaced  with poetry and the humanity of what his story is about. He makes you  weep, gulp and reread many of his passages, wondering how in the world did he come up with such sentences. On page  233, I came to a pause at this sentence:

” The bones of one child, yet to be born, lay caged beneath his mother’s ribs.”

Pellegrino is a great teacher. He came to certain conclusions in his  first book, “Her Name, Titanic,” and  being a scientist, he reveals in this third book, how previous conclusions  needed to be re-analyzed and revisited and be proven wrong during later expeditions.  In his own words, “to change that would have been to alter history. In all three books, the Titanic acquires more detail and color, and how, as scientists saw the Titanic change with the addition of new details, so does the reader.” There is even a letter of apology to one of the members of the crew.

Pellegrino lives the scientist life by showing us the true nature of the scientific process. What a great lesson to students of the sciences or even to current scientists, that only with an open and curious mind, will new discoveries be made.  Science is ever changing and to hold on to the old  wrapped with  one’s ego, does more damage than good. Old knowledge often needs to be replaced with the new. The Scientific mind is an ever moving, ever exploring mind. High school science teachers , put  this book in your classroom library because this is illustrated so clearly in the book.

English teachers, teach your students about writing by exploring Pellegrino’s masterful use of language. I find myself constantly Pellegrino-ing my own writing.  His structure of the time line shifts from below the Titanic to World Trade Center to Hiroshima back to the Titanic. This keeps the story on the move, taking us close to how a mind works. He is certainly a master craftsman of our language.

I often told the following anecdote  to teachers in my teacher training workshops to remind them that a teacher teaches students, not subjects.

A teacher walked into the teacher’s lounge and said, “That John. He is so brilliant. I never had a student so good in math and science.  Today I handed him a flower and instead of smelling it, he began to count the petals.”

Readers, meet a scientist who smells the flowers as he counts the petals. In the Introduction, Tom Dettweiler states: Charlie’s ( Pellegrino) questions were coming from a place  different from that of the questions we had been bombarded with at home. The question we had grown especially tired of was , “Did you see any bodies?”  Charlie was different. Instead of the morbid question about bodies, Charlie asked, “Did you(we) see the humans?” Farewell, Titanic is certainly a story of humans which will stay with you for a long long time.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »