You will be the loser if you don’t read this book

Leslie Sussan and I are both members of Bethesda (MD) Friends Meeting. Many, many years ago I was talking with Leslie about her book about her father, Herb Sussan, and she was already frustrated about how long it was taking. I tried to encourage her by saying I would read the book as soon as it came out. Fortunately she is one of my Facebook friends so, when she announced that the book was available, I immediately bought it and read it.


It took Tolstoy seven years to write War and Peace, while it took Leslie over thirty years to write Choosing Life. Her book is similar to Tolstoy’s classic because it is about war and peace, nuclear war, that is. But also, rather than a top-down academic history,  her book is a Studs Terkel style history of average people and how the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected an individual, his family and the Japanese he photographed.


Leslie is a lawyer and judge so she was adept at writing that language called “legalese.”  To write this book she needed to learn how to write regular English which emphasizes experiences, stories, ambiguities, unknowns, and emotions. She admirably succeeded as the book is full of emotion. I teared up a number of times reading some of the sad stories in the book. This is why the book is so good. There are many excellent descriptions of the atomic bombs and what they did to their victims, but for horror of nuclear weapons to be effectively realized, there also needs to be that gut emotional level of disgust. There is a lot of this in Choosing Life.


Like Tolstoy’s novel, this book is also many layered as real life always is. It included Leslie difficult childhood and rebellion, her attempts to understand her father, living in and adjusting to a foreign culture, the raising of her own child, Kendra, while in Japan, and lack of bitterness that the Japanese people had about WWII and the atomic bombing. While her father and later Leslie herself are almost unknown in the United States, they both have been treated as celebrities in Japan.


This book has come out at the right time. The world has just realized that all the atomic bombs in the world did not protect anyone from Covid-19 and that the resources spent on those bombs would be better spent on making the world a better, healthier place for everyone. Choosing Life provides that needed emotional context to the abolition of nuclear weapons.


A reviewer ends a positive review by encouraging people to read the book. I will do the opposite. You will be the loser if you don’t read the book.

David Zarembka, Kenya