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.
Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman is a World War II memoir of the author’s experience as a young Jewish girl during the holocaust. After her brothers are brutally murdered by the Nazis, Alicia begins to realize the gravity of the situation around her. She and her remaining family members flee to ghettos, hide from the gestapo in underground barracks, and trek across the country, but still cannot find refuge. Alicia’s entire family is soon gone, and she is left to fend for herself. Appleman-Jurman is a true master of detail and description as displayed throughout the novel. The heart wrenching details of her emotional and physical pain are agonizing. Her description of the rage and cruelty the Nazis showed towards her and others makes you question if people with such dark hearts could have ever existed. Every aspect of this novel is written with clarity, honesty, and depth, which allows you to feel like you are in the position of the main character. Alicia: My Story is a must-read for young-adults. While the story is very tragic and may not suit every reader, it forces you to appreciate even the smallest luxuries of life. If you are a fan of historical non-fiction and gorgeous descriptions, this book is definitely for you. – Maya V ’17
Markus Zusack’s novel, The Book Thief revolves around Liesel Meminger’s life during the time period of World War II in Nazi Germany. The novel is narrated by an overworked personification of Death, who provides an interesting point of view throughout the story. Liesel first meets Death when she is nine years old, when she is forced to bury her six year old brother. This is also the first time she steals a book, called The Grave Diggers Handbook, the catch is Liesel is unable to read. Later she is deposited into a foster home as Liesel’s mother is unable to take care of her for mysterious reasons, and is handed into the care of the Hubermans. Liesel immediately warms to Hans Huberman with his gentle smile and his harmonious accordion playing. Their bond is only strengthened when Hans begins giving Liesel reading lessons. Through many twists and turns, Liesel soon befriends finds herself rebelling against Hitler in small ways. I found this book extraordinary with cunning wordplay, and depicting a variety of emotions including abandonment, insecurity, fear, and loss. Though the book was long, the emotions it evokes make it unforgettable. I found it an amazing, captivating read, as it kept me up for a ten hour plane ride. In my opinion, this book is more than worthy of five stars. – Shivani A. ‘17