Japan's infamous 1937 asault on the Chinese city of Nanking and its role in the approach of WW II is at the heart of this panoramic and sometimes didactic account of the moral dilemmas confronted by the good in evil times. Chand (The Bonsai Tree, 1983, etc.) is especially adept at setting a scene and creating vivid characters; her attempts at sketching in a historical background, though, are less convincing. Sections on the Meiji dynasty, Emperor Hirohito, and the postwar trials of Japanese leaders are more homiletic than descriptive, needlessly expanding on points her fictional characters make ably on their own. Assembling a group of characters whose backgrounds and past are introduced with flashbacks, Chand brings them all to Nanking in 1937 just before the city is savagely plundered. There is Dr. Martha Clayton, an American missionary, whose husband Bill was killed by Chinese bandits. Martha has lost her faith in God, and clings desperately to her two teenage daughters, Flora and Lily. Helping temporarily at a Nanking hospital is Nadya Komosky, a Russian who fled the communists. At the Japanese Embassy is widower and former leftist Kenjiro Nozaki; in town is Professor Teng, a Chinese political activist whom Kenjiro befriended when both were studying in France; and rounding out this international cast are Donald Addison, a British journalist; Akira, a Japanese soldier; and Tilik Dayal, an Indian freedom fighter. As the Japanese march into Nanking, systematically raping and killing its inhabitants, all will face awful choices. Martha, who refused to send her daughters back to the US, will go mad when Lily is raped and Flora commits suicide; Kanjiro and Tilik will risk their lives to save others; Akira, a military Everyman, will desert, sickened by the killing he's had to do. Only Nadya and Donald will eventually find a measure of happiness. Graphic reminders that words can still paint horrors with harrowing effect in a sometimes schematic but searing story of love and loyalty under fire.
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