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The Flowers of War Hardcover – Feb 6 2012

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (Feb. 6 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846555892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846555893
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 2.2 x 20.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #84,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"I have long been a fan of Geling Yan's fiction for its power to disturb us out of our ordinary worlds. She is a writer of importance. In spare and unsentimental prose, she shows us the human condition in extreme times. The Flowers of War is yet another accomplished and riveting tale that touches us at the center of our being." -- Amy Tan "Great storytelling" Observer "Intensely cinematic" Big Issue "Deft exploration of the wondrous and sad inscrutability of the human heart" New York Times "Shujuan, one of the schoolgirls, forms the moral arc of the story. Trapped in the church, she is furious at the changes in her body, at the war raging outside and, above all, at the prostitutes whom she views with disgust. Yan masterfully depicts these bubbling tensions...testament to the bravery of women in the most horrifying of circumstances...(beautifully translated by Nicky Harman)." -- Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore Independent

About the Author

Born in Shanghai in 1959, GELING YAN served with the People's Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution, starting aged 12 as a dancer in an entertainment troupe. She published her first novel in 1985 and has now written over 20 books and won 30 awards. Her works have been translated into twelve languages, several have been adapted for film, and she also writes film scripts (including that for Zhang Yimou's adaptation of 13 Flowers of Nanjing). She may be the only person in the world who is concurrently a member of China's Writers' Association and Hollywood's Writers' Guild of America. She currently lives in Berlin.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Flowers of War is a novel set in 1937 which depicts the Nanking Massacre. In fear for their lives, a group of prostitutes flee the Japanese atrocities by climbing over the walls of convent and church where young school girls, some from elite families, are being educated. At the forefront is the priest, Father Engelmann who is entrusted with the school girls lives. What ensues is a desperate story of survival from hunger, murder, and oppression.

The Flowers of War is novel that exposes the full atrocities of that period. It is very much a story of innocence vs. sin, of good vs. bad as the contrast between the personalities of the prostitutes and the school girls clash. Although the writing is simple and easy, the story itself is incredibly poignant with an expolosive ending that will not soon be forgotten. This is a story that will definitely touch readers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9dccd0d8) out of 5 stars 28 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbf939c) out of 5 stars A great ending to a tale that isn't well told Jan. 31 2012
By TChris - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Flowers of War takes place during the 1937 Nanking Massacre. Fleeing the fighting that accompanies the Japanese occupation of Nanking, women from a brothel climb the walls surrounding the church compound maintained by Father Engelmann. With hungry schoolgirls in the attic and sassy prostitutes in the cellar, the missionaries become desperately short of food, water, and patience. Hiding in the compound's graveyard is Major Dai, wounded after a skirmish with Japanese soldiers. When two more wounded Chinese soldiers arrive at the gate, Dai emerges and demands that they be sheltered. Father Engelmann faces a dilemma: if he turns them away, they will be captured and killed by the Japanese; if he gives them refuge, he will be compromising the neutrality of the church and placing the schoolgirls at risk. The story that follows touches upon the lives of those within the compound's walls as they try to avoid becoming victims of the war crimes committed by the Japanese Army.

Given the dramatic setting, much of the novel is surprisingly weak. The characters are well constructed but familiar; the prostitutes are similar to the other prostitutes who make regular appearances in Asian novels (including Geling Yan's infinitely superior The Lost Daughter of Happiness), while Father Engelmann channels the standard American priest serving in a distant land. We learn bits and pieces about the lives of various members of the ensemble cast, prostitutes and soldiers and students and missionaries, but not enough to appreciate any character completely. A schoolgirl named Shujuan is often spotlighted but we know little about her beyond her petty jealousies in matters of friendship. A prostitute named Yumo gets more attention than the rest but she's an empty outline of a character.

The Flowers of War has substantial merit despite its relatively undistinguished cast of characters. As is generally true in a novel that describes the atrocities of war, it would be difficult to remain untouched by the narrative. The story produces some tender moments as groups of clashing characters -- very different in their upbringings and attitudes -- are forced to interact with each other. Geling Yan creates palpable tension whenever Japanese soldiers make an appearance. The ending and its karmic message is sensational; it is nearly enough to redeem the novel as a whole.

Yan writes (or is translated) in an undistinguished style, notable only for its plainness. That doesn't mean the writing is bad or unpolished; the prose is bland but serviceable and the story is easy to read. It's a shame, however, that such a powerful story was not told in more powerful language. Ultimately, I recommend the novel for the story it tells rather than the way it is told.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbf93f0) out of 5 stars A devastating time in history Sept. 21 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel shines a light on another holocaust of which many americans are unaware. When Japan tried to take China in 1937. It was brutal and this book taks as small corner of it and shows how one church and the young girls managed through it. It was also a testement to the endurance and bravery of many in the face of the horrors being perpitrated. The characters were believable and the style was very readable. Its one of those books you can't put down until you are done and you still want to know more.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbf96cc) out of 5 stars better visuals that any other movie Oct. 21 2012
By happy - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
what a story. One we have not heard enough of. One of redemption and courage during the horror of war. Oh we know all about the Nazi's but I think other than our soldiers who were in the pacific we have not been shown the horror of the Japanese occupations.
And the courage of those who stood up for freedom.
And just really how truely courageous those individuals were in any war.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dbf95c4) out of 5 stars Short and simple, but well-balanced account of the Rape of Nanking Feb. 1 2012
By Keris Nine - Published on
Format: Paperback
Geling Yan's short novella, recently made into a film by Zhang Yimou starring Christian Bale, is another attempt to deal with the subject of Rape of Nanking, one of the worst war atrocities committed in the last century, when 300,000 Chinese citizens were systematically wiped out by the invading Japanese forces in December 1937, with many others subjected to horrific torture and abuse. Like recent movies that have been made about the event (John Rabe, City of Life and Death), perspective is critical when it comes to dealing with the subject of such a scale in anything like a comprehensible fashion.

For her part, viewing the events in Nanking from the perspective of an innocent 13 year-old girl, Geling Yan's novel is rather more straightforward and conventional, but it also proves to be an effective means of approaching the subject. The loss of innocence is implied right from the outset, the invasion of Nanking occurring at the exact moment that Shujuan takes her first period, but there is also a sense of boundaries and taboos being broken, of nothing being sacred, when the security of her location, sharing the shelter with a number of other young girls at an American Christian church under the protection of Father Engelmann, is regarded with no more respect by the ruthless and inhumane Japanese soldiers than John Rabe's international Safety Zone in the city.

The nature of the harsh realities of the world that the sheltered young girls have to deal with is reflected also in some of the other less welcome guests who arrive at the church's compound - three wounded soldiers and a group of prostitutes who have come looking for food and shelter. Although a short novel, the author nonetheless manages to use this situation in The Flowers of War to depict the harrowing nature of the awakening to a new, shocking reality that the war brings to the citizens of Nanking, China and to the wider world. Simple yet subtle, with a few precise words and descriptions, Geling Yan also manages to create real human characters, not stereotypes or symbols, picking up important little details that get right to the heart of human attempts to deal with an inhuman situation beyond all comprehension.
HASH(0x9dbf9c0c) out of 5 stars The Flowers of War May 23 2013
By Erin Davies - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wish I could say I came across this title of my own accord, but I must confess, it was Ni Ni's performance in the film adaptation that prompted me to track down a copy Geling Yan's The Flowers of War.

For those whose history is a little rusty, the Nanking (Nanjing) Massacre took place in December 1937. Estimates vary depending on the source, but the International Military Tribunal of the Far East claim more than 200,000 civilians and military personnel lost their lives to the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. It is in my opinion, one of the darkest and oft overlooked chapters of WWII.

I would have been attracted to this piece even if I'd never seen the film. I'd never come across a fictional version of the event and couldn't help being intrigued by the idea once I had. I wanted to see how a writer would treat the event, how they would go about constructing a story from the ashes and sorrow it left in its wake.

In this regard, Yan has real a gift. Her work gives faces to the victims of Nanking and voice to their silent tongues. Through the fiction experiences of Shujuan, Yumo, Hongling, Cardamom, Wang Pusheng, Major Dai, Father Englemann and Fabio, Yan tells the human side of war, weighing emotion and sentiment against the stark reality of history.

The Flowers of War is a plainly written piece, but no less moving for its simplicity. In point of fact I found the modest language and style of the piece one of its more attractive qualities not to mention highly appropriate to the rather bleak subject matter.

Finally, I would note that for all the similarity this is not the same story director Yimou Zang tells on film. Be prepared for that and try to judge each format in its own right.