This moving short
novel is based on true events that took place during the Nanjing Massacre in
1937 when the Japanese invaded the Chinese city, slaughtering not only soldiers
but raping and murdering the civilian population as well. It tells the story of
an American missionary who, for a few terrifying days, finds himself sheltering
a group of schoolgirls, prostitutes and wounded Chinese soldiers in the
compound of his church.
Father Engelmann is one of the small group of Westerners who have remained in
Nanjing, despite the approach of the Japanese. America is not yet in the war
and so his church compound is supposedly neutral territory. However, his
confidence in his ability to look after the Chinese schoolgirls left in his
care is shaken when thirteen prostitutes from the floating brothel on the
nearby Yangtze River climb over the compound wall and demand to be hidden. The
situation becomes even more intense when some wounded Chinese soldiers appear.
Meanwhile Engelmann is becoming increasingly aware of the barbaric behavior of
the Japanese outside the compound walls. It is only a matter of time before
they knock on the door and find the people he is protecting.
Némirovsky’s Suite Française, this
poignant audiobook looks at the effect upon individuals of large-scale war and
tragedy. The characters are beautifully observed. From the naive schoolgirls,
the brazen prostitutes and the frightened soldiers to the slightly priggish
priest and his resentful Chinese entourage. As the Japanese circle ever closer,
the barriers of hatred and prejudice that separate the characters dissolve, and
they perform unexpected and moving acts of heroism. Geling Yan, an important
Chinese writer, reveals herself to be a master of detail and emotion in this
novel. She recreates history as if it is unfolding before our eyes, and writes
characters that are so engaging and so rich that we believe in them entirely. This
is a novel full of humanity—at its worst and at its best—and a fascinating
insight into 1930s China.
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