Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book Review - "The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe

I had delayed reading this important book for a long time simply out of sheer fear of having the atrocious scenes imprinted on my mind.

In June 2011, I had attended a talk by Iris Chang’s mother, Dr. Ying-ying Chang, in Vancouver about her book The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking. At that event I had also seen a documentary recording the heinous acts committed by the Japanese soldiers during the invasion and occupation of Nanking between 1937 and 1938. (As mentioned in this book, the film documentary was produced by Rev. John Magee, an American missionary.) So I was mentally prepared going into The Good Man of Nanking. Still, I found myself consciously skimming the photos in the book as best as I could.

I had not previously read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, the research of which in fact relied heavily on these diaries, which were not published as a book until forty-nine years after John Rabe’s death in 1949. The fact that John Rabe had not intended for his diaries to be published (he had only meant them for his family members’ reading) adds to the value of the book as an authentic and unassailable true account of what really happened, without any hidden agenda. The plain, sometimes emotional, but always from the heart, monologue style of writing, while speaking to readers’ mind and soul, gives good insight into the selfless and compassionate character of this good-hearted German. The monstrosities that he had to try to deflect from some 250,000 Chinese refugees were in ironic contrast to the humanitarian efforts of a handful of Westerners including him who happened to be in Nanking.    

The first entry was made on September 21, 1937 and the last one was dated February 28, 1938.

This January 25, 1938 entry gives a good idea of the gist of the events on record:

“There is one case that we don’t record: A Chinese worker, who has worked all day for the Japanese, is paid in rice instead of money. He sits down in exhaustion with his family at the table, on which his wife has just placed a bowl of watery rice soup: the humble meal for a family of six. A Japanese soldier passing by plays a little joke and urinates in the half-full rice bowl and laughs as he goes his merry way.

The incident made me think of the poem “Lewwer duad us Slaav” (“Better Dead than a Slave”), but one simply can’t expect a poor Chinese worker to behave like a free Frisian. The Chinese are far too downtrodden, and they patiently submitted to their fate long ago. It is, as I said, an incident that is given the scantest notice. If every case of rape were revenged with murder, a good portion of the occupying troops would have been wiped out by now.”

After Rabe and his wife returned to Germany in April 1938, they went through days of hunger and destitution in 1945 and 1946. When the Chinese Military Mission in Berlin made him an offer to resettle in China in exchange for appearing as a witness for the prosecution at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal, Rabe declined.

In a message he left for his grandchildren, he explained: “I didn’t want to see any Japanese hang, although they deserved it…..There must be some atonement, some just punishment; but in my view the judgment should be spoken only by their own nation.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Kristen McQuinn's Review of The Green Phoenix Made My Heart Throb!

I was not prepared for this absolutely glowing review by the seasoned reviewer Kristen McQuinn, who writes for the esteemed book review site Discovering Diamonds and Historical Novel Society.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Monday, February 11, 2019

Check Out These Deals on Kobo!

To celebrate Valentine's Day, both my novel The Green Phoenix and Harry Miller's novel Southern Rain are on sale now. Check out the Kobo site before the sale is over!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book Review - "The English Patient" by Michael Ondaatje

This was a slow read. I had a hard time following the jumbled timelines and trying to connect with the main characters. I know many of my Goodreads friends loved the poetic writing. But it didn’t work for me. I picked this up expecting to read a war novel with an engaging plot and well developed and relatable characters, and found myself reading an epic, meandering and prolix narrative poem instead.

Four people of different nationalities are thrown together by chance at a Tuscan villa towards the end of World War II. The Englishman is badly burned from a plane crash and is dying. The Canadian nurse Hana, who could have gone with other hospital nurses to the safer north, decides to stay to nurse him. A Sikh sapper Kip does his life-threatening job of defusing mined bombs around the villa. An Italian-Canadian thief and spy Caravaggio, who is a buddy of Hana’s father’s, comes to persuade Hana to leave the dangerous place. Kip falls in love with Hana despite his suspicion of white Europeans. Caravaggio identifies the English patient as the pro-German Hungarian desert explorer.

Each character has a poignant backstory which, when revealed, sheds light on his/her present state of mind. The English patient once had a steamy love affair with a British intelligence agent’s wife, which resulted in the husband’s suicide-murder attempt that killed the wife; Hana had an aborted child and was devastated by her father’s death from serious burns; Kip lost a dear British friend and coach who was killed while defusing a bomb; Caravaggio had his thumbs severed as punishment for stealing photo shots of German officers.

The plot was not a bad one, but the way it was executed, the suspense was much diluted, and the characters, with the exception of the Sikh (Kip), failed to strike a chord.

Interspersed throughout the novel is technical information about cartography and desert oases and bomb defusing, which I didn’t find interesting.

I’m giving this novel 3 stars.