The Flowers of War Hardcover – Feb 6 2012
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"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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.