The Flowers of War
by Geling Yan



Other Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-590-51556-3.
Reviewed by Judy Miller
Posted on 03/12/2012

Fiction: Multi-Cultural; Fiction: Historical

We are all capable of unspeakable acts and great compassion, and this fact is illustrated in the novel, The Flowers of War. Set in Nanking in December of 1937, during the actual six-week long "Rape of Nanking", The Flowers of War weaves the unlikely story of teenaged schoolgirls hidden in the compound of the St. Mary Magdalene Church by Father Engelmann (an American priest), injured and escaped Chinese soldiers, and prostitutes, who have climbed the high walls of the mission walls during the siege of the Japanese Imperial Army.

The army had already committed profound atrocities throughout China, and they were not finished. It was estimated that they murdered between 250,000 to 300,000 people and the soldiers were also encouraged to rape at will.

Everyone in the church compound is at risk—of losing their souls, lives, or both. In order to survive and cope with the fast-changing circumstances of being under siege, all of the characters who survive are forced to come to the realization that they must cooperate despite the places they have arrived from and the biases they carry and bring into this emotionally taut setting. This insightful information is shared with the reader, woven into the characters' thoughts, words and actions. The main characters of The Flowers of War—Shujian, Father Engelmann, Fabio, Cardamom, Yumo, Sergeant Major Li, and Major Dai—are well developed and believable.

This group of survivors finds refuge in more than just the church and it's protective walls—they find strength and comfort in each other. As some fall, others rise to the occasion or to sacrifice. The Flowers of War is an apropos metaphor for what can take root and grow in the direst of circumstances.


Geling Yan was born in Shanghai, China and served with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the Cultural Revolution, starting at age twelve as a dancer in an entertainment troupe. She is a one of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists and screenwriters writing in the Chinese language today, having published over twenty books. Her works have been translated into twelve languages and adapted for film. She holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College in Chicago and lives in Berlin, Germany. Read more here.

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