About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#9: Nanjing Requiem

Nanjing Requiem, by Ha Jin (New York: Pantheon Books, 2011)

"The award-winning author of Waiting and War Trash returns to his homeland in a searing new novel that unfurls during one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century: the Rape of Nanjing.

"In 1937, with the Japanese posed 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 behalf of the hapless victims. Even when order and civility are eventually restored, Vautrin remains deeply embattled, and she is haunted by the lives she could not save.

"With extraordinarily evocative precision, Ha Jin recreates the terror, the harrowing deprivations, and the menace of unexpected violence that defined life in Nanjing during the occupation. In Minnie Vautrin he has given us an indelible portrait of a woman whose convictions and bravery prove, in the end, to be no match for the maelstrom of history."

Opening Lines:
"Finally Ban began to talk. For a whole evening we sat in the dining room listening to the boy."

My Take:
Had high hopes for this one. Sadly, it didn't deliver. Ha Jin's writing style, at least here, was just too detached and clinical for the book to be effective. Certainly the Rape of Nanjing was horrific -- heck, it makes That History Place's online list of the worst genocides of the twentieth century -- but Nanjing Requiem reads more like a chronicle of atrocities than a portrait of the human beings involved. Neither Minnie nor the narrator, Anling, really come to life in any meaningful way here. I have to agree with Marie Arana's Washington Post review, which calls the novel "unnervingly flat" and says it "doesn't quite pack the voltage it deserves. ... The action can read like a textbook, with intermittent spatters of gore."

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