Many accounts have been previously written about this most horrendous historical event, better known as the Rape of Nanking, a time in the late 1930s when Japan invaded China. When China refused to surrender, the Japanese military warned Chinese leaders that there would be no mercy, assuring that plunder, rape, and murder would be the ultimate end of China’s resistance.
Ha Jin has depicted this infamous event in fictional form but adds a humanitarian element to it in the persons of the narrator, Anling, and the famous missionary, Minnie Vautrin. She has taken over the administration of Jinling College, the place that would be converted to a sanctuary for women and children in the days of Japan’s attack. The complexities of protecting the Chinese, trying to compromise with the Japanese military in order to get food and safety for those in the sanctuary, the inability to stop the atrocities being carried out on a daily basis, and the all-too-frequent failure to stop some of the women being taken from the sanctuary all provide pages and pages of intense, fear-filled, and horrific reading. Minnie Vautrin herself has a terrible end, focusing more on what she was unable to accomplish than the incredible deed she accomplished in saving so many lives. John Rabe is a German who actually sets up the sanctuary, an irony of ironies when the reader knows what was occurring at the same time in war-torn Europe at the hands of Germans.
Reading this necessary fictional story of reality is heart-rending, ennobling, and mesmerizing, a tribute to the juxtaposition between the best that humanity can be and its worst moments. Nanjing Requiem is an amazing, obviously well-researched, and creative historical novel.