Plot:  … Leslie A. Sussan’s memoir/biography Choosing Life centers on an urgent and fascinating story of profound historical significance. At the end of the second world war, Sussan’s father, then serving in the U.S. army, filmed and photographed the aftermath of the nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He documented the devastation, the survivors, and even what he called “the stirrings of democracy in Japan,” believing that he was capturing an essential record that would inform the public. Instead, the footage was classified and rarely seen. In the 1980s, after a career as a television producer, he visited Japan again, meeting with survivors he had photographed decades before. Sussan draws on oral histories in which her father tells his story, her own memories of their strained relationship, and accounts of her own trip to the bombing sites to piece together a story that crosses oceans, decades, languages, and generations. For history-minded readers, the story’s core will be reward enough, though Sussan’s structure and efforts to work in more traditional aspects of a memoir are somewhat awkward.

Prose/Style: Sussan’s prose is, for the most part, clear, precise, and unadorned. Its tone is always appropriate to the momentous historical events it describes . . . Excerpts from her father’s oral histories are judiciously chosen. Passages describing her own visits to Japan are richly detailed, sometimes exhaustively so.

Originality: Sussan has a singular story and, at her book’s best, does it justice.

Character Development: The material concerning her father’s mission, its later cover up, and his late life zeal to get back to Japan is extraordinary and powerful. Other material, such as some of Sussan’s experiences in Japan, her memories of 9/11, or her efforts to discover her own voice, are not always clearly and urgently connected to the main narrative and themes. The idea of her father’s experience resonating throughout generations is a potent one, as is the possibility of Sussan making some peace with him, but the material as presented does not make those elements of the narrative as compelling as the nuclear devastation at this story’s heart.


  • Plot/Idea: 9
  • Originality: 9
  • Prose: 8
  • Character/Execution: 8
  • Overall: 8.50

Booklife Critique