Tag Archive | WW2

The Rape of Nanking- Iris Chang: 57/52

The forgotten Holocaust. One of the forgotten Holocausts

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I swore off all real war book after This Divided Island. But then, the masochist-voyuer in me didn’t allow it. I wanted to read about more horrific horrors that happened  in other wars. So I Googled to find more such books. And I realised that there is no dearth of such books and such horrific horrors and such wars in this world.

This book happened in between my trips to China and Germany. It shook me up badly and I wanted my emotions to settle down a bit before I wrote about it. But then I went to Germany and visited Dachau Concentration camp. And suddenly I wasn’t too sure about which horror was more horrific. The relatively unknown WW2 horror of Japanese soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians in killing competitions and bayonet practice or the well known WW2 horror of gas chambers and Hitler’s Hate. And again, I waited for my emotions to settle down. But now I’m actually too numb and that moment of horror has passed. One more war book and I think I’ll be vaccinated for life against Feeling. So what I write now is not what I initially felt.

When I think China, I think of only Tiananmen Square, Bamboo gulags, Inhuman Rights. The land without Twitter and Facebook and Google. Enemy country. I don’t know anything about Chinese history before 1989. And when I think of Japan, I think of hard work and perfection. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsunamis. A country of phoenix birds rising from the ashes to greater heights each time. The victims. Our friends. But now, I can think of just one thing when I think China. Nanking. And when I think Japan, again, Nanking. (  A Tale for the Time Being had that chapter from the Kamikaze pilot’s life. I wasn’t that moved then. But now I should read it again to understand Japan’s cruelty. )

The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking is not the cold blooded massacre of 50000…100000…300000…prisoners or war and civilians because the Japanese Imperial army didn’t know what to do next; not the rapes of women from 8 to 80; not the killing competitions or the mass burial grounds; not the mountains where the  soil turned into metallic red slush or the Yangzte river that turned red with the blood of the beheaded. The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking to me, is the fact that most of the world is still unaware about it even now.

It is like a ten line article tucked into page 30 of the WW2 newspaper where the Jewish holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the headlines. More sad is that China itself has tried to forget and remove all traces of the horror and move on to other self inflicted horrors instead of throwing open their doors for the world to see. And saddest is that the USA, self appointed guardians of humankind,cared only when Pearl Harbour happened, and even afterwards only made amends for their own wrongs to Japan instead of telling the world what Japan had done to their neighbours. And Japan, Japan with its denial, false propaganda, school books with twisted history and a right wing that still intimidates anyone who wants to share the truth. Oh, Japan, you’ve fallen from that pedestal I had you on. And how.

On my next trip to China I wanted to plan a quick visit to Nanjing. But after Googling a bit, I decided against it. Even if I can make that overnight train or expensive flight for the weekend, I think I’ll be going into a city that has erased her scars and painted herself over with a new shiny gloss. A city that has buried its past and moved on to the future. But then, maybe that’s what China is all about. And to some of us here, Nanking will continue to be nothing more than that authentic Chinese restaurant.

Edit: On the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, I got some uninvited attention on Twitter from some Japanese. Some keywords led them to my tweet about the book. I was open to discussion and they shared some photos showing the Japanese-Chinese ‘friendship’ in Nanking. Three happy propaganda photos do not erase the horror that it actually was. These were some of the links they shared to debunk the ‘myth’ of the Nanking Massacre.

This–> http://www.howitzer.jp/nanking/page01.html Seriously? If you say so.

This, obviously, is the Ginling College Safety Zone –> http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15799coll123/id/33881/rec/50

This, I don’t understand the language, but yes Chiang Kai Shek was to blame too. Although he was just a pawn in the bigger picture –>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c66d9WKRwk

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A Tale for the Time Being- Ruth Ozeki: 47/52

Zen philosophy meets Quantum Physics meets Reality.

A freezer bag washes up on a beach in a remote island somewhere in Canada. A hello kitty lunch box. A composition notebook written in French. A watch that doesn’t work. A diary with a Proust cover. And a tale for the time being written in purple ink. A tale written by a sixteen year old Japanese schoolgirl, sitting in a French Maid cafe. A tale she says is about her 104 year old great grandmother Jiko, but one that is more about herself. A tale she wants to tell someone before she commits suicide.

The Nao part of the book was gripping. A  teenager uprooted from the Great American dream and thrown into Japan again. She’s a misfit in school, tortured by her classmates in unbelievably shocking ways. A father on the verge of losing it, a mother struggling to keep the show running. And the comfort she finally finds in her 104 year old great grandmother and her dead grand uncle. I wonder which Haruki was sadder, the present day one with the deafening conscience  who reads philosophy books and makes origami insects out of the pages and joins suicide clubs or the young Haruki on the suicide mission during WW2. The theme of suicide looms large throughout Nao’s narration, disturbing and heavy.

The Ruth part was painfully boring. For starters, I hate the name Ruth. It only reminds me of a stiff old fashioned woman in black stockings and a high collared shirt. This Ruth wasn’t exactly that, but she was so boring. There was no emotion in her part of the story. Yes, she was consumed by Nao’s story and worried for the girl, but even that was so stiff and starched.The husband and wife relationship was so formal and awkward, they seemed more like a student and her HOD, discussing garbage gyres, native crows and Schrodinger’s cat. Not that intellectually stimulating conversation between a husband and wife is not allowed, but it was so bleh and academic. Also, there somewow seemed to be no love between them, with her complaining about everything from his illness to life on the island to his cat or getting possessive and confrontational when he understood Nao’s predicament more than she did. In managerese,I could say that Ruth doesn’t offer any value add to the story.

I have to skip analysing the Zen parts. I’m too simple minded to get Zen. That dream scenario went over my head. I have to skip analysing the Quantum physics parts. I’m too unintelligent to get Quantum Physics. I did understand Schrodinger’s cat though, thanks to Sheldon Cooper. There was a lot of Japanese peppered into Nao’s narration, too many footnotes to check. Otaku, Hentai, Ijime, Hikikomori : some of the words that continued to disturb me throughout the book. Japan, you twisted country, if what Nao writes about your people is true, you scare me.  I would have liked more closure, more answers. Less Ruth, more Nao. But overall I liked the book. I’d try another Ruth Ozeki sometime soon

The Betrayal- Helen Dunmore :24/52

Got Readers Block this April. I was somehow not able to sit down with a book. And then I got a Kindle Paperwhite. Yes, inspite of this rant, I went ahead and got one. And yes, I’m loving it.

Inaugurated it with The Betrayal.

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The Siege made me cold and depressed, The Betrayal made me frustrated and angry.

Ten years after The Siege, Anna, Andrei and Kolya live a happy contended life. The horrors of the siege and the war are slowly fading away and they look forward to the small joys of life like a lazy weekend at the dacha and the hospital ball. And then terror strikes again, this time in the form of stupidity. Yes, there is no other word to describe it, and I shudder when I realise that this kind of stupidity is not just pure fiction.

Andrei gets pulled into treating a little boy with a cancerous growth, the boy being the son of a highly placed dangerous police officer with the MGB. Cancer does its thing and the father, a paranoid Stalin era idiot, sees conspiracy. He sees saboteurs, spies , Jews and everything else in a what is infact a disease that god, a god they are not allowed to believe in, is to be blamed for.

The book takes you into the depths of the horror that is the Lubyanka in Moscow where people are mercilessly thrown  into for their crimes, crimes as shocking as ‘insufficient vigilance’. Don’t report an anti govt joke made at a party? Get a year in prison. Solitary confinement where people communicate through soap impressions and attempt toilet paper scribbles. Cells as large as cupboards where you’re not allowed to sit or even lean against a wall and conveyor belt interrogations that last for days.

And then it also takes you to a safe dacha in the village where there’s a new life being born. And a much awaited death, a death that brings hope.

 

 

Kaleidoscope- Danielle Steel :13/52

This was the first Danielle Steel I read, feeling all grown up at 17. I remember weeping throughout the book and this was one story that stayed with me even after I got over my Danielle Steel phase. So I revisited it after all these years. And not surprisingly, I wasn’t choking up as much this time.

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A love story that begins in the midst of the second world war ends in a tragedy with the man strangling his wife in a fit of anger and then committing suicide. Their three daughters get separated, two of them adopted and the eldest one ending up drifting from foster homes to juvenile hall. And hardened by the horrors of ill-treatment, rape and apathy, Hilary grows up seemingly cold and unfeeling. As with all Danielle Steel women, you have the rich , posh and titled Alexandra, married to a man decades older, dripping diamonds and designers. Megan who was a baby when separated is a doctor with not much of a back story.  Arthur Patterson comes across as the helpless henpecked wimp, but you don’t understand why Hilary hates him so much until she reveals a shocking secret towards the end, when he’s on his deathbed. John Chapman, the investigator hired to find and reunite the three sisters is again, the classic Danielle Steel hero, all sensitive and caring and gets conveniently coupled in the end.

Maybe because it was the second time reading it, or maybe because I’ve outgrown hardcore chicklit, this book didn’t do much for me this time.

(Another series  that I loved back then and feel like rereading are the books by Claire Lorrimer. The Chatelaine, The Wilderling and something else. Should try to get hold of them in some library. They’re too expensive here )

The Siege- Helen Dunmore : 7/52

Dark. Cold. Depressing.

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Soviet Russia has always fascinated me. So has the Second World War. What happens when both meet? Unimaginable horror.

Two years, four months, two weeks and five days of hunger, cold, fear and death. Not necessarily in that order. That was what the Siege of Leningrad was about. There’s hunger that makes your stomach rumble as you read it. And cold that makes you reach out and switch off the fan.

Anna, a twenty three year old nursery assistant who grew up overnight when her mother died . grows up again. This time, to look after not just her mentally disturbed father and five year old brother, but also her father’s lover and her own. She survives the bread queues, she barters food for warmth and warmth for love. She scrapes out frozen sludge from chamberpots and scours burned down buildings for floorboards. She sacrifices pieces of bread and drops of honey for the five year old child, while the father of the child lies in the next room, refusing to want to live. Books that once warmed her soul, warm the room. Leather straps and wallpaper paste become food.

And in this fight for survival, you see the human spirit triumph through people like Evgenia, and the same spirit die when you find people prepared to kill for a crumb of bread or a log of wood. You don’t actually feel the entire duration of the Siege in the book though. It somehow seemed to end too easily ( compared to the real horror that I read about after I read the book) The deaths don’t hit you hard enough, except maybe, the baby’s. Probably because you have not been given a chance to relate to the characters long enough. But it is horrible enough for you to have nightmares. I did.

After reading this, my first thought was that Anne Frank had it easy. Locked for more than two years, in a city with no food, no warmth and no hope, the people of Leningrad didn’t.

And then, if it is even possible, you hate Hitler some more.