THE RAPE OF NANKING by Iris Chang

THE RAPE OF NANKING

The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Billing itself as the first English-language history devoted to the Japanese Army's 1937 massacre in China's capital, this slight account will by no means be the last word. Repeated references to Schindler's List point to the problem with this overdigested version of the past: It reads like a treatment for a probably inevitable cinema version of the hideous incident. Its economical, blandly shocking anecdotes of crimes against humanity and its cardboard heroes suggest scenes ready-made for screenwritten history. Thus, while rigorous in its moral earnestness, the book is inadequate as a history. After a minimal background chapter on Japanese militarism, Chang, a freelance journalist, describes the Japanese assault on Nanking. The specifics are deeply horrific: Over a period of several months Japanese soldiers killed approximately a quarter of a million Chinese, almost all of them noncombatants, including the elderly, women, and children. But the potential ingredients of a skillfully woven narrative are separated here into lifeless clumps of facts--catalogues of atrocities by kind; tiny summaries of topics of significant contextual interest, like foreign intelligence concerning the massacre; and probably gripping oral recollections flattened into clunky prose (``of the hundreds of people killed that day . . . Tang was the only survivor''). Chang tells only as much as one needs to know to indignantly draw the familiar lessons for humanity--``the frightening ease with which the mind can accept genocide, turning us all into passive spectators to the unthinkable.'' What's needed is to vivify such truths with intense historical reality. Chang fails because she rushes to simplify complex events and to universalize what happened at the expense of a careful, comprehensive appreciation of a world violently destroyed. (photos, not seen) (First serial to Newsweek)

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-06835-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997




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