In an introductory galley letter, National Book Award winner Ha Jin (Waiting, 1999) announces his intent to reclaim American missionary Minnie Vautrin’s heroism during the 1937 Nanjing massacre: “She suffered and ruined herself helping others, but she became a legend. At least her story has moved me to write a novel about her. If I succeed, my book might put her soul at peace.”
While many were fleeing the city as it came under Japanese attack, Vautrin opened Jinling Women’s College to 10,000 mostly women and children and repeatedly risked her life to save refugees from the atrocities the Japanese military inflicted on Chinese civilians during the Sino-Japanese War. Vautrin’s experiences are filtered through the perspective of her fictional Chinese assistant, who records both Vautrin’s courage and her agonizing demise over the victims she couldn’t save.
Verdict: Requiem is necessary testimony, but as with Iris Chang’s groundbreaking The Rape of Nanking, readers should be aware of the book’s relentless, graphic horror. Jin’s loyal readers will notice a bluntness – jarringly effective here – different from his previous works, as if Jin, too, must guard himself against the horror, the horror.