Friday, September 30, 2011

Nanjing Requiem-Ha Jin

Nanjing Requiem

Ha Jin

Pantheon, Oct 18 2011, $26.95

ISBN: 9780307379764

In 1937, the Japanese occupation force takes control of Nanjing with a brutal violence to insure the suppressed population could not rebel. American missionary dean of Jinling Women's College Minnie Vautrin is horrified with what she witnesses and what she hears as the Japanese army terrorizes civilians with mass slaughter and rape. She and her assistant Anling Gao open the college as a shelter to the homeless. While the Japanese threaten to destroy her school and her, Minnie continues to act as the "Goddess of Mercy" to over ten thousand battle fatigued women and children.

Anling bears her own demon in secret. Her daughter in law is Japanese so though she desperately wants to welcome her son’s wife and worse her grandchild as her kin, she cannot acknowledge them if she does not want to become a pariah in her community and ineffective in assisting Minnie. She takes solace with her work helping the Goddess of Mercy perform miracles by risking their lives. Still both women feel tormented by those they could not save from the horrific murdering and raping of Nanking.

With a nod to Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanjing, Ha Jin provides a powerful cautionary historical thriller with a focus on the real life missionary who the author makes a strong case deserves international legendary status for what she did at a sacrifice to herself. Reading somewhat like a biographical fiction, Anling tells the tale of her boss’ efforts and sacrifice to rescue the beleaguered unprotected civilians from a reign of terror.

Harriet Klausner

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