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Nanjing Requiem

Nanjing Requiem

4.0 3
by Ha Jin

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It’s 1937, and the Japanese are poised to invade Nanjing. Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and the dean of Jinling Women’s College, decides to remain at the school, convinced that her American citizenship will help her safeguard the welfare of the Chinese men and women who work there. She is painfully mistaken. In the aftermath of the invasion,


It’s 1937, and the Japanese are poised to invade Nanjing. Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and the dean of Jinling Women’s College, decides to remain at the school, convinced that her American citizenship will help her safeguard the welfare of the Chinese men and women who work there. She is painfully mistaken. In the aftermath of the invasion, the school becomes a refugee camp for more than ten thousand homeless women and children, and Vautrin must struggle, day after day, to intercede on the behalf of the hapless victims. Yet even when order and civility are restored, she remains deeply embattled, always haunted by the lives she could not save.
At once a searing story that unfurls during one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century and an indelible portrait of a singular and brave woman, Nanjing Requiem is another tour de force from the National Book Award-winning author of Waiting.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Subtle and powerful.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Crushingly beautiful, achingly sad. . . . What you most remember, once you put down the book, is not agony and hopelessness, not darkness and blood, but rather the reach of human goodness.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Remarkable. . . . Profoundly moving.” —The Plain Dealer
“Wonderful. . . . [Ha Jin’s] control over his characters is masterful; Japanese characters can be kindly, victims can be stridently impatient for vengeance. All are human.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

Nanjing Requiem is both plainspoken and revelatory, the saddest of Ha Jin’s novels. After this past decade of armed conflict, which has put millions of civilians at risk, his reminder of the human costs of war is also, unfortunately, timely.” —The Boston Globe
“An affecting, insightful portrait.” —The Oregonian
“[Minnie’s] humanizing voice and struggling perspective personalize the story and provide an element of reasonableness and decency amid so much savagery. . . . Harrowing.” —Wall Street Journal
“[Ha Jin’s] spare prose can achieve a masterful precision. . . . Demonstrate[s] how humans cope when forced together in wartime. . . . Testament to the bravery of women in the most horrifying of circumstances.” —The Independent (UK)
“Exquisitely painful. . . . Creates an unforgettable impression.” —St. Louis Dispatch
“Haunting. . . . He has honed a distinctively dry, laconic prose style.” —Financial Times

“Should be required reading for anyone who isn't familiar with what happened at Nanjing. . . . Courageously and unflinchingly, Ha Jin has taken an important step in remembering both the victims and the heroes of that senseless slaughter.” —Associated Press

“Delivers glimpses of the massacre in all its reeling madness: the young woman who is driven insane by her manifold violations; the ways violence can smite the spirit, even when the body is spared; the sight of ‘shells bursting in the air like black blossoms.’” —The Washington Post


Library Journal
Written in English, this historical novel chronicles American missionary Minnie Vautrin's efforts to aid and protect victims of the Nanjing Massacre. (LJ 8/11)
Isabel Hilton
As a novelist, Ha Jin brings a cool, spare documentary approach to this…book that renders a subtle and powerful vision of one of the 20th century's most monstrous interludes.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
For his sixth novel, Jin (Waiting) focuses on the atrocities committed by the Japanese occupiers in 1937 Nanjing. Jin describes horrible acts in a style bordering on reportage, lending bitter realism to his chronicle of violence and privation. While much will be familiar to readers of Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanjing, Jin anchors his tale on two characters: the middle-aged narrator, Anling Gao, and real-life American missionary Minnie Vautrin, dean of Jinling Women's College. Anling assists Minnie, and through her eyes we follow the missionary's heroic decision to open the college to homeless refugees, creating a safety zone that the Japanese can't penetrate. Jin wants to celebrate this "Goddess of Mercy" who sheltered more than 10,000 women and children, endured near daily menace from the Japanese, and literally worked herself to death. Anling too makes a heartbreaking sacrifice, although her torment is secret, since she cannot acknowledge her son's Japanese wife nor the child they bear. Jin's dialogue includes some unfortunate anachronisms ("cut to the chase"; "pain in the ass"), contemporary phrases that wouldn't have been part of a pious Chinese or American woman's vocabulary in the 1930s. Despite these minor lapses, Jin paints a convincing, harrowing portrait of heroism in the face of brutality. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
A historical novel with a timeless theme—the inhumanly human brutality of war and the attempt to sustain a life of compassion and grace in response to it.

There's a real person and a real atrocity at the heart of the latest fiction by the award-winning Ha Jin(A Free Life, 2007, etc.). The atrocity is the late 1930s occupation of China by Japan, a period during which, says the novel's narrator, "[t]hey meant to destroy China's potential for resistance and to terrify us into obedience." Such terror took the form of rampant rape (in what has become notorious as "the rape of Nanking") and indiscriminate murder.The novel's real-life protagonist, whose diaries and correspondence served as source material, is Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary who turned the women's college where she was dean into a refuge for some 10,000 Chinese women and children. Her story is told through the eyes and voice of Anling Gao, Vautrin's assistant who serves as her "unofficial proxy" as a Chinese-speaking citizen. In the novel's early stages, the narrative strategy seems limiting, for Anling is neither particularly eloquent nor psychologically astute.She tells what she sees, and she has a good eye for detail, but shows no deep insight into the qualities that elevate Vautrin into sainthood among so many of those she saved, or to Vautrin's resistance to such lofty regard. "I hate to see them confuse humanity with divinity," the narrator quotes the protagonist. "It's not right to be called a goddess while I'm doing mission work." Yet the novelist's subtle mastery enriches the work, as Angling shifts from the role of witness to an integral position in the plot, and the complexities of relations among Americans, Chinese, Japanese (and eventually Germans, Russians and others) continue to multiply. Ultimately, Vautrin's resistance to her deification proves well warranted, though the novel presents her as an indelible figure worthy of its celebration.

A matter-of-fact, plainspoken narrative that has a profound impact.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

Finally Ban began to talk. For a whole evening we sat in the dining room listening to the boy. He said, “That afternoon when Principal Vautrin told me to go tell Mr. Rabe about the random arrests in our camp, I ran to the Safety Zone Committee’s headquarters. As I was reaching that house, two Japanese soldiers stopped me, one pointing his bayonet at my tummy and the other sticking his gun against my back. They ripped off my Red Cross armband and hit me in the face with their fists. Then they took me away to White Cloud Shrine. There’s a pond inside the temple, and a lot of carp and bass lived in the water. The monks were all gone except for two old ones who’d been shot dead and dumped into a latrine. The Japanese wanted to catch the fish but didn’t have a net. An officer emptied his pistol into the pond but didn’t hit any fish. Then another one began throwing grenades into the water. In a flash big bass and carp surfaced, all knocked out and belly­up. The Japs poked us four Chinese with bayonets, and ordered us to undress and get into the water to bring out the fish. I couldn’t swim and was scared, but I had to jump into the pond. The water was freezing cold. Luckily, it was just waist-deep. We brought all the half-dead fish to the bank, and the Japanese smashed their heads with rifle butts, strung them through the gills with hemp ropes, and tied them to shoulder poles. Together we carried the fish to their billets. They were large fish, each weighing at least fifteen pounds.

“The soldiers had fried fish for dinner but didn’t give us anything to eat. Instead, they made us pick up horse droppings left by their cavalry with our bare hands. At dusk they took us to an ammo dump to load a truck. More Chinese were there working for them, eleven in total. We carried boxes of bullets onto the truck. When the loading was done, three fellows and I were ordered to go with the truck to Hsia Gwan. I was shocked to see so many houses burned down in that area. Lots of buildings were still burning, and the flames snapped and howled like a rushing wind. The electric poles along the way were blazing like huge torches. Only the Yangtze Hotel and a church stood undamaged. We stopped at a little slope and unloaded the truck. Near the riverbank a large crowd had gathered, more than a thousand people. Some of them were Chinese soldiers and some were civilians, including women and kids. A couple of men in the crowd raised white flags, and a white sheet was dangling from a tree. Beyond the people, three tanks with their turrets like large upside-down basins were standing on the embankment, their guns pointing at the crowd. Near us some Japanese soldiers were sitting around a battle flag planted in the ground, drinking rice wine from a large keg wrapped in straw matting. An officer came over and barked out some orders, but the soldiers at the heavy machine guns did nothing and just looked at one another. The officer got furious. He drew his sword and hit a soldier with the back of it. Thwack, thwack, thwack. Then his eyes fell on us Chinese coolies squatting close by. Raising his sword, he gave a loud cry, charged at the tallest one among us, and slashed off his head. Two squirts of blood shot into the air more than three feet high and the man fell over without a whimper. We all dropped to our knees and banged our heads on the ground, begging for mercy. I peed my pants.
“The soldiers at the machine guns were flabbergasted. Then one of the guns began firing, and the other two followed. In a flash the machine guns posted at other spots started shooting too. So did the tanks. The crowd was swirling around, crying and falling, but the people were trapped. Every bullet cut down several of them. In less than ten minutes they were all mowed down. Then groups of soldiers carrying fixed bayonets went over to finish off those who were still breathing. I was so horrified that I couldn’t stop trembling and crying. One fellow worker grabbed hold of my hair and shook me, saying, ‘Don’t make so much noise—it will draw attention.’ That stopped me.
“We returned with the truck to carry loot for the soldiers, mainly furniture. They didn’t keep all the stuff and threw lots of things into the big bonfire in front of their regimental headquarters. Over the fire were pigs and sheep and quarters of a buffalo skewed with long steel bars, and a couple of boiling cauldrons. The air was full of the smell of roasted meat. That night they locked us in a room and gave us each a ball of rice and a cup of water. The next two days they took us to the area east of the Central University to carry loot for them again. They stripped every house of its valuables and then torched it. One soldier carried a safe cracker, but most times they didn’t use the tool and just blew the safes open with hand grenades fixed to their bottoms, where the iron was thinner. They were very fond of wristwatches and jewelry—those were what they were after. One of them, a young fellow, even took a baby carriage. I couldn’t stop wondering what he’d do with that. He was too young to have kids.
“Afterward, they whisked six of us out farther east to Jurong Town, and we worked there for a whole day, moving artillery rounds and shell casings. In the evening they released us and said we could go home. Dog-tired, we slowly started trekking home in the dark. The first night we covered only ten miles. Along the way every pond and creek had dead bodies in it, humans and animals, and the water had changed color. When we were thirsty, we had no choice but to drink the foul water. Oh, I still can smell the stink of the decaying corpses. Some of them had eyeballs sticking two or three inches out of their faces, probably due to the gas built up inside them. We once came across a young woman’s body with one foot missing, dark blood still oozing out of the stump; on her other foot was a small purple shoe—she had bound feet. Some women were naked from the waist down, stabbed to death after the Japs had raped them. My legs would keep on shaking whenever we passed a pile of corpses.
“Again and again we were stopped by Japanese soldiers. Lucky for us, the officer who had released us wrote a note, so the guards along the way didn’t arrest us and allowed us to come back to Nanjing. One of the fellows, dehydrated from diarrhea, couldn’t walk anymore. We could do nothing but leave him behind on the roadside. He must be dead now. Not far from where we left him, we stumbled into a little boy, two or three years old, sitting at a deserted bus stop and crying from hunger pangs. I gave him a piece of pancake, but before he could eat it, four Japs came and prodded him with their boots. One of them pulled out his dick and started peeing into the boy’s mouth. The boy was crying louder and louder while the Japs cracked up. We dared not watch for long, so we moved on. I’m sure the other three Japs did the same to the boy. He’d be lucky if they didn’t kill him.
“Oh, human lives suddenly became worthless, dead bodies everywhere, some with their bellies cut open, intestines spilled out, and some half burned with gasoline. The Japs killed so many people that they polluted streams, ponds, and wells everywhere, and they themselves couldn’t find clean water to drink anymore. Even the rice they ate was reddish because they had to use bloody water to cook it. Once a Japanese messman gave us some bowls of rice, and after I ate it, I had the taste of blood in my mouth for hours. To tell the truth, I never thought I would make it back and see you folks again. Now my pulse still gallops in the middle of the night.”
While Ban was speaking, I jotted down what he said.

Meet the Author

Ha Jin’s previous books include the internationally bestselling Waiting, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Book Award; War Trash, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award; the story collections Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; and three books of poetry.

Brief Biography

Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
February 21, 1956
Place of Birth:
Liaoning, China
B.A. in English, Heilongjiang University, 1981; Ph. D. in English, Brandeis University, 1993

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Nanjing Requiem 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago