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Nanjing: The Burning City

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After the bombs fell and shook the walls of Nanjing, the Imperial Japanese Army entered and seized the Chinese capital. Through the dust of the demolished buildings, screams echo off the rubble. Two abandoned Chinese soldiers are trapped and desperately outnumbered inside the walled city. What they'll encounter will haunt them. But in the face of horror, they'll learn that resistance and bravery cannot be destroyed by the enemy.

Ethan Young (Tails) delves into World War II's forgotten tragedy, the devastating Japanese invasion of Nanjing, and tells a heart-wrenching tale of war, loss, and defiance. Beautifully illustrated in black and white.

"In Nanjing, cartoonist Ethan Young tells an intimate story against an epic landscape. Bold, heart-breaking, and gorgeously rendered." —Eisner and Printz Award-winner Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints, American Born Chinese)

"Young’s decision not to glorify violence or titillate the reader in any way avoids a common pitfall and heightens the drama. This is stunning, stirring historical fiction by a creator at the height of his craft." (Starred review) —Publishers Weekly

"Young’s is just one chapter in an overwhelmingly grievous episode of the 20th century. The specifics might be fictional amidst a historical backdrop, but in creating names, depicting individual faces both living and dead, Young conjures a haunting microcosm amidst a horrifying event of epic proportions." —Smithsonian APAC Bookdragon

"Nanjing: The Burning City deserves a spot alongside not only historical comics, but wartime prose and non-fiction as well. It’s not often that an author can so skillfully evoke powerful emotion while telling a complex and long-forgotten story and this book is an excellent, necessary addition to the genre." —The A.V. Club

"Haunting and powerful, Nanjing is a moving tribute to an event which needs to be remembered, as much as we'd like to forget it." —Eisner and Harvey Award-winning author Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference, Tune)

"Young's expressive, thoughtful line work takes full advantage of comics' power. Nanjing reads effortlessly while begging the eyes to savor each page. A triumph at the very soul of the medium, a perfect marriage of Toth and Tatsumi." —Eisner Award-winning writer/artist Nate Powell (March, Swallow Me Whole)

216 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Ethan Young

44 books33 followers
Ethan Young was born Yi Feng Huang, to Chinese immigrant parents in NYC. Young's books include: NANJING: The Burning City (winner of the 2016 Reuben Award for Best Graphic Novel, The Dragon Path, Space Bear, and Life Between Panels.

Young is currently a Character Designer at Marvel Studios Animation.

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5 stars
103 (20%)
4 stars
244 (48%)
3 stars
121 (24%)
2 stars
29 (5%)
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3 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 103 reviews
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
May 30, 2016
Of course there is now an abundance of historical studies of the assault on Nanking in the late thirties. Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (1997) is a great example, though controversial, and in my opinion justly celebrated. There are now many studies, some of them fictional, such as Ha Jin's work. This graphic novel looks like it may be written for younger readers, as it does not depict with any shocking detail the atrocities, but focuses on two survivors trying to fight their way to safety. The artwork is great, worth of Tardi's and Kurtzman's war comics. And finally harsh and brutal and sad enough. The human side of war.

Young is Chinese-American, and though there is some moral ambiguity in places, his work is largely a kind of tribute to the Chinese soldiers who lost their lives in the massacre, and to the resilience of the Chinese people. It's a good intro for young people to this important episode from WWII history.
Profile Image for Dean Simons.
336 reviews3 followers
August 19, 2015
Full disclosure, I know a fair bit about modern Chinese history prior to reading this book. I've read about what happened during WW2, I've visited the memorial in Nanjing. My knowledge of the Nanjing massacre (often called "The Rape of Nanking") is more than the average reader of this book.

As a piece this is a very well written and well crafted work. The characters feel human, the clash of old and new world are well presented in the dialogue. There are moments of moral ambiguity, as is to be expected in a work set in a conflict.

This is a war story. A story of soldiers left behind. The atrocities of what happened under the Japanese occupation are suggested but the brutality and the disturbing nature of the events are just hinted at. I suspect this was the author's decision. From what I can tell, this book is suitable for a school audience. It is accessible. But it isn't the most definitive comics work on Nanjing. I reckon this book is a fine start but that achievement has yet to be achieved.
Profile Image for Eli.
697 reviews109 followers
May 17, 2016
I really enjoyed this historical comic. Ethan Young did a great job with the story and the art. It felt accurate to what I have read. It was fresh because I had not read any accounts from Chinese soldiers in Nanjing. He didn't have a lot of time for character development as it was a rather brief story, but I felt so much for the characters. Young really captured the fact that not all of the Japanese soldiers in Nanjing were bad, and he also really captured how brutal war is.

Review before reading:

I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS!!! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this! I was perusing Goodreads for titles related to the Rape of Nanking, and I happened upon this. As a history major who loves comics, this excites me greatly. Luckily a library about 30 minutes away has a copy.
Profile Image for Laura.
2,701 reviews81 followers
August 20, 2015
I admit, when I picked this up, I knew a little bit about the story of the rape of Nanjing, but that was about as far as it goes. This, as most good war stories, is told from the view of a soldier in the conflict, a Chinese officer.

And of course, the way war is, this does not have a happy ending. Why should it? Well, most of the books I have that are set in war have some glimmer of hope in them, that the main characters will survive, and live another day. But I'm sure the point of this book is to show how horrific the war was. So, no such glimmer of hope for us here.

Still, this was well told, and for those who want to teach about what happened pre-WWII (there are those that say that this conflict should be when WWII started, rather than 1939), this is a good introduction.

I thought I was just going to look inside, and then finish this later, but read the whole thing in one sitting.
Profile Image for Stewart Tame.
2,304 reviews90 followers
January 14, 2016
A powerful and moving war story. Except for the length, this could almost be a forgotten story from Frontline Combat or somewhere similar. Ethan Young's artwork recalls Kubert and Severin and Davis, while maintaining its own identity. This could easily have been a polemic, blood and guts and rape thrown in the reader's face. But taking a more tasteful approach gives the story more power. The worst images occur off-panel, in the mind of the reader, and are the stronger and more memorable for it. This is stirring stuff, that can hold its own with the best of the classic war comics.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,823 reviews107 followers
May 21, 2016
This graphic novel tells the tale of two Chinese soldiers trapped in Nanjng after the bombing and invasion of Japanese troops.

War is hell, atrocities are committed by all sides, and everyone suffers. I liked the art in this book, and while I liked the creative way the author shows the destruction of the city and its people, there was not much new here for me. I wonder if this was targeted at a young adult audience who might have not been exposed to this story before. If that is the case, it is a good introduction to this historical event, and would also be good for readers who like learning history via comics.
Profile Image for Andy.
Author 2 books62 followers
September 3, 2015
4.5 stars - Extraordinarily powerful story of a handful of people during the Nanjing massacre. Characterization is excellent and the storytelling contains a level of suspense that's effective without ever feeling cheap or manipulated. There's one dialogue exchange that goes on a little too long and runs the risk of pontificating, but that's really a minor quibble. I hope this gets a large readership.
Profile Image for Derek Royal.
Author 13 books71 followers
September 13, 2015
Ethan Young's story of the seizure of Nanjing is tightly woven and psychologically focused. He takes a relatively brief period of story time and pours all of his energies into that frame. A compelling story with even more impressive art. We reviewed this book on a recent episode of The Comics Alternative: http://comicsalternative.com/episode-....
Profile Image for Jason.
3,789 reviews24 followers
October 30, 2015
Fantastic art-especially the inking. powerful contrasts and effective line work. The story is harrowing and upsetting and makes an impact without being too grotesque (which would be easy for the subject matter). Apparently this is a topic we all need to learn more about.
Profile Image for Brian.
99 reviews
September 27, 2015
Through outstanding artwork, you get sucked into this little bit of time with these characters. Immediately connecting with them, and deeply feeling the story to it's conclusion. The fact that it's based on a real event adds so much emotion to the story.

Ethan has created something that allows us to see the horrors of war, and not forget the humanity that has to go through it.
Profile Image for Kim.
1,237 reviews21 followers
January 18, 2016
An historical fiction graphic novel about Nanjing. I heard the author speak earlier in the year and I've been looking toward reading it ever since. Although, I will say that I didn't find it nearly as adult as the author led me to believe. There are some mature themes, but it's really not something that younger people couldn't handle (and would probably get a lot out of it too).
Profile Image for Mr. Twinkie.
298 reviews34 followers
January 20, 2018
It is an okay read but it doesn't really differ from anything I have seen before. Neither does it go in any depth into the special case of the Nanjing Massacre. Often I wondered whether this specific event was the main focus of the story or whether the book was just a general statement about war. It is readable but nothing special.
Profile Image for Kenny.
866 reviews35 followers
October 3, 2015
Moving and gripping tale of two soldiers quest to survive Nanking after the KMT abandon it to the Japanese.
Profile Image for Elle Kay.
383 reviews5 followers
January 24, 2016
A haunting tale of evasion and survival set amongst the Nanjing Massacre. This one was well written, beautifully illustrated, and something that will stay with me for a very long time.
Profile Image for Alex E.
1,246 reviews6 followers
August 6, 2020
This is a chapter in history that I am not aware of, so to me, this was really fascinating and harrowing.

It's easy to look over the fact that before WWII started, there were conflicts all over the world that were already either brewing, or in full swing. The war between Japan and China ultimately got absorbed into WWII, so many of the details regarding this particular conflict are either quickly summarized in history books, or unfortunately completely glossed over. This book puts is directly in the middle of a battle within Nanjing, and more importantly, the middle of a story where there is already a victory of sorts, and the survivors of the losing side must find a way to simply survive.

First, the art is fantastic in this book. Ethan Young has an amazing ability to show emotion and convey feeling with his art. Whether is fear, anger, relief, or straight up defiance, Young has the ability to make you feel what is happening in the story, purely from his art. Really well done especially for a topic as heavy as this book.

I've always considered myself to be a bit of a history buff, so something like this was really up my ally. It makes me want to go and read more about the subject to learn and educate myself on it as much as possible. And that's the great thing about these types of comics, in that - they are great stories for several reasons that deserve to be read and known. And this medium opens up the subject to many people who wouldn't necessarily know about it, like me.

Highly recommended for history buffs, or fans of great war comics.
Profile Image for Rogues Portal.
32 reviews2 followers
June 17, 2016
Nanjing: The Burning City
Writer & Artist: Ethan Young
Publisher: Dark Horse
A review by Amelia Wellman

I love history. World War II has been a favourite topic of mine since listening to my grandfather’s stories about his time in the military as a kid. There came a point when I believed I had learned everything I could about World War II. Then I read a book in high school (that remains to this day my favourite book) called The Devil of Nanking that covered a part of the war I’d never heard about: The Nanjing Massacre.

I’ve studied this little known massacre of World War II on and off again for years and just recently came upon a graphic novel that focuses on just a single day in the six weeks of chaos in 1937, when the Japanese took China’s capital city and proceeded to rape, kill, pillage, and burn it to the ground.

Nanjing: The Burning City tells the brutal tale of the Imperial Japanese Army seizing Nanjing. Through the dust of the bombed buildings, screams echo off the rubble. Two Chinese soldiers, abandoned by their cowardly commanding officers, are trapped inside the city. Hopelessly outnumbered and not even safe disguised as civilians, they plan their escape.

The story of Nanjing is a horrifying one. Bombs were dropped, crops and farms destroyed, the higher ranking army officers abandoned their troops to hide in the mountains. When the Japanese entered the city, they began a six week campaign of rape, looting, and murder. A few Westerners that were in the city set up a refugee zone but the civilians that stayed weren’t safe even there. Any man suspected of being in the military was killed, women were rounded up to serve in Japanese army brothels, and children used for target practice. Records are fuzzy, but it’s possible that up to 300,000 civilians were murdered and up to 80,000 women were raped.

Nanjing was an appalling event, but Young has produced a graphic novel without anything graphic having been shown. There’s no glorification of the violence that transpired present in these 200 hundred pages. It’s a bold move and an original one. Most media would choose to show the violence to hook the audience, but Young has shown no more than a shadow of the events. His story is strong enough to carry your attention from beginning to end without sensationalizing the violent events. It makes it so much more powerful by this design. The more you show, the more trivial everything becomes.

Young does this story a great justice by keeping it as scarce as possible in terms of what is seen in Nanjing: The Burning City. If too much death and destruction is shown it wears the audience down. If you become desensitised to one aspect of the story, you’re likely desensitised to them all. By shying away from the horrors, Young creates a story about Chinese honour and resilience. The captain’s speech at the end, while he has a gun pressed against his head, is inspiring.

The art of Nanjing: The Burning City is as striking as the story. It’s done in black and white with thick and simple pen lines. The artwork isn’t necessarily sparse, but it’s not necessarily detailed either. Clever use of shadows and angles always make expressions very clear and what little is shown of the landscape is oppressive and bleak. It’s detailed where it needs to be to create the astounding atmosphere that’s present. Having never read any other of Young’s work, I can’t say if it’s an overall style he has, but what’s presented in this graphic novel works exceedingly well with the story.

The Verdict

Buy It! Nanjing: The Burning City is a bold and haunting look at a segment of history that’s almost always completely overlooked. It’s a shocking bit of history told in a way that doesn’t highlight the atrocities. It highlights the enduring human spirit and how resilient we can be in the face of extreme circumstances. It’s a sad story but a story that needs to be told.
Profile Image for Václav.
976 reviews42 followers
January 11, 2020
(3,6 of 5 for nice war report from infamous Nanjing massacre)
The well-known atrocities of wars are a bit overplayed so many authors seek for some other terrible but less known (or better forgotten) ones. So even if the principle is similar, we can learn something new. I was aware of Nanjing, but I do not know many details or circumstances and even fewer stories from that time. So I looked forward to this comics book. We follow abandoned Chinese soldiers, one is a young boy, the other is an old veteran and they're trying to escape the desolated city. There is not a lot of contexts, only the necessary ones. the story just focuses on the destiny of the soldiers and people which they met along the way. There is not much to the cruelty and bloodiness of Nanjing occupation - the comics avoid being too graphic whenever it is possible so it's accessible to the (appropriately) young readers too. I enjoyed the story, ti's good and well told. Visually it looks good, it has its qualities in both graphics and comics sides. There is not much to point out as bad or exceptional, so I will eventually forget the comic and maybe remember only the point of the story that seemingly revenge or greater good could "justify" and create unthinkable things.
Profile Image for Mark Allard-Will.
Author 4 books7 followers
June 21, 2018
Take the somewhat hidden history of Japanese war crimes committed in mainland China and blend it with fictional characters designed to guide us through the sense of despair, loss and isolation from the rest of China, and the World, that the residents of Nanjing must've felt during the invasion and occupational events of The Nanjing Massacre (commonly referred to as The Rape of Nanjing) and you have the Graphic Novel, Nanjing: The Burning City.

To create a Graphic Novel about Japanese war atrocities is a service in and of itself, in a World that, due to Japan's denialist stance of these events, has nearly forgotten such events even occurred; but to create one of this calibre is nothing short of breathtaking.

Let's look first at the story. How does it work? Well, Ethan Young focus on two Soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in the now fallen and ablaze city of Nanjing; one a seasoned middle-aged Captain, the other the young and impressionable grunt named Lu. Desperate to escape the City and rejoin their fled leadership, they argue an escape plan and attempt to make it out alive. But the ultimate question is: Take the long and dangerous route to the Yangtze River and row for safety or take the short route to the International Zone, an area known to be a key target of the Japanese?

So, does it work? Short answer: Absolutely! The long answer: By using two close-knit, co-dependant fictional (but wholly realistic) characters, Young goes in macro enough to not need to be painstakingly researched on key geographical locations, timings and personnel; this means that the reader is, instead, free to focus on the characters' journey through the City, a journey designed to make the reader feel the claustrophobia and fear of being trapped and outnumbered in a City where the predominant force (the Imperial Japanese) are known to shoot even the innocents and unarmed on-sight. This where the storytelling method comes in to its own: feeling, empathy and understanding.

The Artwork is second-to-none. For example, the Captain, a character designed to be a tough-but-fair unit commander is drawn to look authoritative, but in a loving but firm fatherly kind of way and that translates visually to the reader. Moving away from character visual aesthetic to focus instead on visual/story flow, the story reads incredibly smoothly, smoothly enough that it could be called filmic; playing out like a very well-paced Movie. No motion or panel and page progression feels jarring and one entire smooth motion is accomplished to relay the story.

In short, this Book does wonders both for making sure history doesn't repeat itself/bringing Eyes to a sadly overlooked part of recent history and for entertaining storytelling. Go and grab a copy.
Profile Image for World Literature Today.
1,190 reviews337 followers
March 15, 2016
"Most Americans know of the East Asian side of World War II only as a conflict between Japan and the US. Ethan Young’s graphic novel sets out to raise our awareness of this horrifically violent period of war. The son of Chinese immigrants to the United States, Young says in an essay with Paste magazine that he wanted Nanjing to be 'more than a footnote.' Young claims his point is to make this historical moment visible, and he does. [A]s readers, we become immersed in the impossible ethics of war—any war. This narrative succeeds less as a history lesson than as a powerful indictment of both war and its telling. That some events in war are forgotten, or deliberately erased, only serves to secure a sense that war can be a victory or encompass some kind of justice." - Alison Mandaville

This book was reviewed in the March 2016 issue of World Literature Today magazine. Read the full review by visiting our website: http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/2...
Profile Image for Mike.
686 reviews
March 17, 2016
Two Chinese soldiers abandoned and cut off behind the Japanese lines in the occupied city of Nanjing desperately try to escape the city., and survive the worst carnage of the Sino-Japanese War.

While the Nanjing Massacre was something I had read about in historical accounts, this graphic novel very effectively tells a small story within the greater context of the incident. The fear and desperation of the people trapped in the city comes through clearly, as does their anger and hatred for their occupiers. Young does not shy away from portraying the brutality of the Japanese, but he does not uniformly depict them as monsters, either. The overall theme is the tragic waste of human life.
Profile Image for Akira.
188 reviews3 followers
January 23, 2018
I liked this brief glimpse into the atrocities of what occurred at Nanjing. I appreciated it’s imagery and the tug and pull play of giving you little bits of both sides. I prefer that level of truth showing the bare teeth of war as nothing clean cut. No one side is the hero or the villain. War is War an ugly and complicated chaos. Although brief and only skimming the surface it was a good introductory point for this tragedy & I will definitely be reading more on it in the future. Simple and well put introductory graphic.
Profile Image for Melle.
1,278 reviews28 followers
December 17, 2015
Wow. Sadly, I know very little of world history, especially of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Atrocities were committed by the occupying Japanese forces in the city of Nanjing. The graphic novel does an excellent job of humanizing both sides while excusing none of the violence and provides an excellent start into understanding a bit more about this significant part of world history. Like the graphic novel adaptation of War Brothers, brutal, unflinching, and necessary.
Profile Image for Kathleen McKim.
578 reviews8 followers
March 28, 2016
This graphic novel does a great job of giving human faces to soldiers from both China and Japan during the seizure and massacre of Nanjing. The soldiers portrayed use strong language, but nothing in the book is gratuitous. The characters are carefully drawn, and Young's use of panels to deliver close ups of their faces is well-done. In fact, this technique delivers the emotional impact of the story. If anyone is interested in learning about this atrocity, this book would set a nice context.
Profile Image for Julia.
451 reviews32 followers
March 24, 2016
This is an emotionally tough read. It pulls no punches about the horror of war and the violence committed against soldiers and civilians. In particular, the sexual violence toward women is very difficult to read. However, despite that, it's an important glimpse into a part of the conflicts that eventually became WW2 that is not often explored. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Jenna.
3,474 reviews38 followers
November 11, 2015
A beautifully illustrated portrait of a horrible event in history. The focus on our two protagonists made it faced paced and even more hard-hitting had it been an overarching tale of the entire city.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,812 reviews33 followers
December 30, 2015
A beautifully drawn historical fiction comic following two Chinese soldiers as they try to escape the rape of Nanking. I would highly recommend this book for fans of history or comic books.
Profile Image for Marsha Altman.
Author 16 books127 followers
October 4, 2017
Fantastic, moving book about the battle of Nanjing, more commonly known (except to the Japanese) as the Rape of Nanking. The author manages to evoke pity but also give life to the Japanese soldiers.
Profile Image for Alicia.
5,887 reviews119 followers
November 2, 2018
This graphic novel is brutal in all the ways that graphic novels can assault your senses with the truth and make any reader understand the gravity of the situation. The choice to keep it black and white and the way that it's paced with pages of no talking (and there isn't a narrative) keeps it stark and startling as we follow the fight between the Chinese and Japanese and the hardship the soldiers experienced, the pain of the laypeople caught up in this war, and specifically the dead and raped and the pain that was endured.

With a few historical notes at the beginning and the end, it serves its purpose and doesn't overwhelm-- it is (for all intents and purposes) a slice of life from this destructive Sino-Japanese war.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 103 reviews

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