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.)
In an introductory galley letter, National Book Award winner Jin (Waiting, 1999) announces his intent to reclaim American missionary Minnie Vautrin's heroism during the 1937 Nanjing massacre: "She suffered and ruined herself helping others, but she became a legend. At least her story has moved me to write a novel about her. If I succeed, my book might put her soul at peace." While many were fleeing the city as it came under Japanese attack, Vautrin opened Jinling Women's College to 10,000 mostly women and children and repeatedly risked her life to save refugees from the atrocities the Japanese military inflicted on Chinese civilians during the Sino-Japanese War. Vautrin's experiences are filtered through the perspective of her fictional Chinese assistant, who records both Vautrin's courage and her agonizing demise over the victims she couldn't save. VERDICT Requiem is necessary testimony, but as with Iris Chang's groundbreaking The Rape of Nanking, readers should be aware of the book's relentless, graphic horror. Jin's loyal readers will notice a bluntness—jarringly effective here—different from his previous works, as if Jin, too, must guard himself against the horror, the horror. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/11.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
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.
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
“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