The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Iris Chang’s account of the Rape of Nanking, the month-and-a-half-long period of looting, barbarism, and murder after Japanese forces captured the then-capital of China in 1937, is the first book of its kind to be published in English. Part of the reason for this appalling lack of coverage of the massacre in the United States is that certain details, like the exact death count (somewhere in the hundreds of thousands), are still debated and may never be known for sure; Japanese officials’ ongoing reluctance to acknowledge the episode, as well as the intense pain associated with it for the families of all involved, have also prevented it from being intensely studied by American historians. Chang’s book, then, is enormously important in that it fills a gaping hole in the library of English-language studies of World War II, but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend it. The Rape of Nanking is painful to read, with its graphic descriptions of mutilation and abduction and its photos of the episode’s victims, alive and dead; the early chapters especially are as unpleasant and intense as they are informative. This is a brave book, an important book, but you should know what you’re getting into before you pick it up.