November 19, 2007


The tale overwhelms the teller (Chris Knight, 11/19/07, National Post)

When Iris Chang decided to write a history of the 1937 Nanking Massacre, her goal was to examine how the Chinese people remembered the event, how the Japanese viewed it and what third-party accounts existed from the time.

As the title of this documentary suggests, Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking also seeks to present Chang's own story.

It's not a happy one. Chang was not yet 30 when The Rape of Nanking was published in 1997, and although the book was on The New York Times? best-seller list for 10 weeks, its author gradually fell into depression and committed suicide in 2004 while working on a book about the Bataan Death March.

Unfortunately for the makers of this film, however, Nanking in 1937 has enough misery to fill hours of screen time. In trying to simultaneously present a history of the massacre and a telling of Chang's telling of that history in under two hours, the film does both stories a disservice.

I had an English prof at Colgate, Terrence Des Pres, who was a renowned Holocaust scholar, though he was young non-Jew from the American Midwest. He died in 1987, under circumstances that suggested he took his own life, though perhaps accidentally. He was a nice enough man, but his studies seemed to have left him almost too emotionally fragile to function. One day he came into class crying, because that morning he'd seen several military planes returning to their nearby base in Rome, NY. He explained that, when they passed between him and the Sun, it appeared that they cut through the orb and trailed blood and he could only imagine the damage we'd do in our impending war with the Soviets.

To the extent suicide is ever explicable, it somehow seems easier to understand that a survivor of these atrocities would take the option than a historian assembling the details later and experiencing the suffering only vicariously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 19, 2007 12:33 AM
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