Monday, January 16, 2012

The Flowers of War--Gelling Yan; translated by Nicky Harman

The Flowers of War-

Gelling Yan; translated by Nicky Harman

Other, Jan 31 2012, $15.95

ISBN: 9781590515563

In 1937 the Japanese Imperial Army invades Nanking. The St. Mary Magdalene Mission is considered a safe neutral zone by the forces of both sides. American expatriate Father Engelmann protects schoolgirls trapped in his sanctuary though he fears sustenance shortages.

Ignoring the internationally agreed upon protocols of war, invaders commit monstrous atrocities against the local population; females are a particular target. Brothel workers sneak into the mission. Unable to send them away though they exacerbate the dwindling food and water supplies, Father Engleman places them in the basement and the students in the attic. Also inside the mission is wounded Major Dai, who, demands the priest, grant sanctuary to two injured Chinese soldiers. Father Engelmann feels like Solomon without the wisdom; as he knows if he grants the request he threatens the females under his protection from the Japanese, who if they find out will deem the Mission is no longer neutral; if he denies the soldiers they will die.

Mindful of Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin, The Flowers of War is an intriguing look at the Massacre from the perspective of those hiding inside the mission. The storyline is deep as readers obtain a deep look at the Chinese holocaust. However, ironically none of the cast moves passed typical stereotyping; for instance the American priest shoulders the “white man’s burden”, the usual prostitutes as seen in Ms. Yan's The Lost Daughter of Happiness, and the inane rivalry between students. Well written, fans will enjoy The Flowers of War as readers are reminded never forget, although there is no Minnie Vautrin.

Harriet Klausner

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