x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Flowers of War: innocence lost in Nanjing

Though initially dry, the impact of Geling Yan's staccato narrative grows more striking as each horror unfolds.

The Flowers of War, by Geling Yan.
The Flowers of War, by Geling Yan.

Any story set during the 1937-38 Rape of Nanjing - a campaign of sustained atrocity undertaken by Japanese troops upon residents of the Chinese city - is bound to send a few chills down the spine, especially when its plot involves a hapless group of choirgirls being trapped within the doomed city's walls.

Meng Shujuan, a 13-year-old member of the St Mary Magdalene church choir, hides out with her fellow school friends in the attic of the church as Japanese bombs batter the city.

With only a pair of priests and a few servants to protect them from the roaming invaders, their problems are complicated by the arrival of several prostitutes seeking refuge. The older women, experienced in the harsh ways of men, provide for an unwelcome reflection of the fate that awaits them all if they are to be discovered by the Imperial Army.

Though initially dry, the impact of Geling Yan's staccato narrative grows more striking as each horror unfolds.

Ultimately, the tragedies that befall her characters hit all the right emotional triggers, which moves Yan's novel on towards a compelling finale.