The Journey through Nanking, by Travis Lee, is the story of a young girl’s journey through Nanjing immediately after the Japanese invasion of Nanjing. It begins with a short introduction from the eyes of her family and then breaks to the moment the family is separated.
There is an explosion and the protagonist, a young Chinese girl, suddenly lives purely in the moment. We see through her eyes. The tense changes as though time has caught up with her and she may be trapped in the present forever. At first, she merely avoids capture, hiding in dirty spots of the city. She turns pictures of other families down, sometimes avoids beds and places of familial bonding. She was not just avoiding the places, but the memories that would reveal the truth that she might never see her family again. She lives in the immediate. There is no way back and she is guided by spirits. As is usual with war, nothing is resolved for the young girl.
The history of Nanjing, the places, the streets, the landmarks, all have drowned under gunshots and are clouded by the fog of battle. It might be just that I live in Nanjing now and have been introduced by historians and history enthusiasts that certain places were very important during this time. Her brother is mentioned growing up and his growth is tied to the military progress of the Japanese from Manchuria to Nanjing. This is the last we hear about it and I would have liked to see more. Despite being at odds with a young, traumatized girl’s view of the city after war, I would have liked to see more names dropped and a closer look at the human efforts being attempted, failed, or worked against during this time. I felt like this story could have been more personal. She doesn’t go through any effort to remember her family, nor does she seem particularly desperate to find them. She wanders lost in the rubble, living only the most basic existence of mouse hiding from cats.
Though I have never experienced trauma like this, I get the impression that tragedies and wars are similar to each other and yet unique. I felt this story could have taken place in any time or place. Maybe I’m greedy, but I wanted to feel the story could only have happened in Nanjing.
I would definitely recommend this story to friends but it would not be a recommendation to those interested in history, but to those interested in an intriguing story. The Journey through Nanking indeed tells one. It tells of a girl who is immersed in the present, unable to think about the future or past. She is concerned with escaping, but ultimately being consumed by, the horrors of city.
There is a reason it is not called The Journey out of Nanjing, but The Journey Through Nanjing; we learn that not even those with spirit guides can ever leave the war behind.