Nanjing Requiem Review

June 11, 2012

Yesterday I finished reading Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin.

Even though I studied Chinese and eventually managed to take a Chinese lit course, I never actually read anything by Ha Jin, which now that I have seems like a complete oversight. I guess my class didn’t really focus on contemporary lit and focused mainly on introducing us to the Chinese literary bigwigs (Lu Xun, etc.). My professor mentioned Ha Jin, we just never read anything by him.


Nanjing Requiem is historical fiction. It tells the story of the Rape of Nanjing as experienced by Anling, a Chinese woman with secret ties to Japan, and Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and Dean of Jinling Women’s College. As Japanese troops descend on the city, refugees flock to Nanjing, set up as a Safety Zone, looking for just that. Jinling accepts only women and children, hoping to keep them safe from harm, but that proves to be more difficult than expected.

I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word to use in this case, but I thought this book was great. It was incredibly well-written and Ha Jin easily transported me to 1937 Nanjing. At times I thought certain scenes were gratuitous, but overall the writing was raw, but effective.

Now I need to read something a bit lighter. I’ve got two Jean Plaidy novels —the first in her Tudor saga — out of the library, so that should be lighter reading. I’ve also got Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand on my metaphoric reading table.


3 Responses to “Nanjing Requiem Review”

  1. Heather said

    This does sound like a great book. I love historical fiction – it really gets you thinking about what it might really have been like at that time (does that make sense?). If you haven’t read it, you should try Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard. It’s set in WWII, and although it’s a bit distressing at times, it is beautifully written.

    • Yeah, I read a lot of historical fiction for exactly that reason. I haven’t read Empire of the Sun, I’ll definitely add it to my (never ending) list of books to read. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • Heather said

        No problem! If you don’t get around to reading the book, the film adaptation is amazing as well – it has Christian Bale in when he was about 12ish. One of the best book to films I have ever seen.

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