three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
By: 
Ha Jin
user_rating: 
0

A-Nanjing RequiemThe author of several novels, including War Trash ( 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2005) and A Free Life ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008), Ha Jin won the National Book Award in 1999 for Waiting. See our book-by-book profile of the author in our Jan/Feb 2008 issue.

The Story: The Rape of Nanjing (also known as Nanking) was one of the most horrific episodes of the years leading up to World War II. In 1937, as the Japanese Army overran the Chinese capital at that time, hundreds of thousands of people died; many women and girls were raped as well. Ha Jin relates the experiences of these harrowing six weeks from the perspective of the inhabitants of the Jinling Women's College. The college's dean, Minnie Vautrin, who was a Christian missionary from a small town in Illinois, is revered in China to this day. Narrated by her fictional assistant and friend Anling Gao, who suffers alongside Vautrin as she attempts to save the lives and dignity of as many young women as possible, Nanjing Requiem puts individual faces on a wartime tragedy.
Pantheon. 320 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307379764

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Ha Jin's remarkable new novel, Nanjing Requiem, treats one of the most infamous and horrific examples, the six weeks of the second Sino-Japanese War that became known as ‘the rape of Nanjing.' Stark as it is, the book's cumulative effect is profoundly moving." Tricia Springstubb

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As a novelist, Ha Jin brings a cool, spare documentary approach to this rich trove of material. ... [A] book that renders a subtle and powerful vision of one of the 20th century's most monstrous interludes." Isabel Hilton

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel's dry, documentary tone recalls the blunted emotions of survivors of trauma. ... Nanjing Requiem is a tragedy on two levels: the mass scale of the wartime atrocities and the individual scale of a woman who rejects being labeled as a goddess but cannot forgive herself for failing to perform miracles." Margaret Donsbach

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As fiction, Mr. Jin's account is less expressionistic and more controlled than Iris Chang's history. Indeed, Nanjing Requiem seems written almost as a duty--it is a didactic, understandably tendentious retelling of what has come down to us as a black moment in the history of civilization (or the lack thereof)." Alexander Theroux

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Fiction can tell great truths. Calm can deliver a harrowing tale. But, in the end, one can't help but wonder whether Ha Jin's unnervingly flat chronicle is the right vehicle for searing history." Marie Arana

Critical Summary

Overall, reviewers felt that Ha Jin has written a novel that educates readers about the massacre at Nanjing and that serves as an excellent fictional counterpart to Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking (1998). (Minnie Vautrin's diary, Jin notes, was a major source for Chang's book.) They appreciated the author's insight into the story of Minnie Vautrin, who is not well known in the United States today but revered in China. Yet most critics also found Jin's voice unusually detached or documentary in tone. Some felt that Jin's voice is an acceptable and respectful way to treat the violent events the novel describes, but others felt that it decreases the power of the narrative--a story which, for most readers, will still remain very powerful.