In Ha Jin’s masterful narrative, the Rape of Nanjing becomes a story of faith and suffering as can
only be experienced by women in war. Told through the eyes of a female Chinese administrator at
Jingling Women’s College, it is a compelling portrait of her boss, the enigmatic Minnie Vautrin,
a real-life American missionary and dean, who committed suicide years after surviving the vicious
occupation by the Japanese.
In the face of insurmountable odds, Minnie sheltered and fed 10,000 refugee women and children
inside the college walls, and attended to the needs of rape victims with prescient sensitivity.
Ha Jin shows effective restraint in conveying the mindless atrocities that are endemic to invading
armies, as well as the long-term consequences. His crystal-clear prose and deeply felt passion
convey the poignant heroism of fighting for humane values in the heat of war.
— Alan Cheuse and April Smith
2012 finalist judges
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Excerpt from the book
The day of her departure was wet and a little chilly, though spring was at its peak—trees all green,
flowers in clusters, the ground velvety with sprouting grass, and the air atremble with trills poured
by birds. About a dozen people gathered at the front gate to see her off, mostly her friends and
colleagues. I burst into tears and wailed, “Minnie, you must come back. Remember, you and I planned
to spend our last years here together. You promised to teach me how to drive.” Beside me stood
Donna and Rulian, their teary eyes fastened on Minnie. Beyond the two young women was Old Liao, staring
at her, his neck stretched forward and his bronzed face taut, as if he was trying hard to comprehend
what was going on.
2012 Fiction Runner-Up
“Words alone might not produce peace, but a literary work ought to
celebrate the goodness of humanity while describing the destruction
and losses due to its absence. We write not only to tell a story
but also to reduce the violence within ourselves and others. A book
has no greater role than to serve the purpose of promoting peace.”
* * *
Ha Jin grew up in mainland China and came to the United States in 1985 to do graduate work at Brandeis
University. Since 1990 he began to write in English. To date, he has published three volumes of poetry,
Between Silences (1990) and Facing Shadows (1996), Wreckage (2001); and four books of short fiction,
Ocean of Words (1996), which received the PEN/Hemingway Award; Under the Red Flag (1997), which received
the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, The Bridegroom (2000), which received The Asian
American Literary Award (2001) and the Townsend Fiction Prize (2002), and A Good Fall (2008). He has
also written six novels: In the Pond (1998); Waiting (1999), which received the National Book Award
(1999 and the PEN/Faulkner Award (2004), The Crazed (2002), War Trash (2004, the PEN/Faulkner Award,
2005), A Free Life (2007), and Nanjing Requiem (2011), which won the Taofeng Prize given by Nanjing
Public Library. His book of essays, The Writer as Migrant, was published in 2008. His work has been
translated into more than thirty languages.
Currently he is a professor of English at Boston University and lives in the Boston area.