"" The Relentless Reader: Never Fall Down and The Rape of Nanking

November 1, 2012

Never Fall Down and The Rape of Nanking


Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Publication Date: May 2012
Categories: Historical-Asia, Biographical
Source: Library

Description:
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock 'n' roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.

One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn's never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand—and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.

Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, this is an achingly raw and powerful novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace, from National Book Award finalist Patricia McCormick.



The Rape of Nanking by Iris Change
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: November 1997
Categories: Asia-China/Japan, Military-WWII
Source: Library

Description:
In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written what will surely be the definitive history of this horrifying episode. 

The Rape of Nanking tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved almost 300,000 Chinese. Among these was the Nazi John Rabe, an unlikely hero whom Chang calls the "Oskar Schindler of China" and who worked tirelessly to protect the innocent and publicize the horror. 

More than just narrating the details of an orgy of violence, The Rape of Nanking analyzes the militaristic culture that fostered in the Japanese soldiers a total disregard for human life. Finally, it tells the appalling story: about how the advent of the Cold War led to a concerted effort on the part of the West and even the Chinese to stifle open discussion of this atrocity. Indeed, Chang characterizes this conspiracy of silence, that persists to this day, as "a second rape."

My Thoughts:
I'm finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. I'll simply say this: Both of these books are deeply disturbing but historically important. I believe that we have to read books like this...both to honor the victims and to remind ourselves of what can happen when absolute power is bestowed on the few.



8 comments:

  1. These are books that are hard to review and hard to read but you're right, we have to read them because they happened and to sweep them under the rug because they're too difficult for us would be a shame on us.

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    1. Yes yes yes! Both of these turned my stomach but I think it's so important for everyone to know about these events.

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  2. Does that mean that they were hard to read, hard to review, and a little hard to enjoy? We should read them, but they're toughies all around?

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    1. Definitely toughies. It's just awful to think of things like this happening but they did and the world needs to know that.

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  3. These both sound haunting and disturbing, but also fascinating and important. I don't know nearly enough about Eastern history, but I need to start educating myself. These tragedies need to be remembered! I'm adding these books to my list.

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    1. I think if I had to pick my very favorite thing about reading it would be that they teach me more than I ever could have learned in school.

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  4. Thanks for your review of Never Fall Down. I have it sitting next to my bed but have yet to pick it up. You almost need to brace yourself before you start reading.

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    1. You're right about that, you do need to brace yourself. Never Fall Down is supposedly a YA book, but wow. It's very adult in theme and content.

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