As many readers know, I love fiction and non-fiction stories about World War II. There’s just so much to learn about this period in time.
I first read How We Disappeared which inspired me to find more books about this little known atrocity of WWII, young women being kidnapped by Japanese soldiers and forced into sexual slavery.
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White Chrysanthemum was the next book that I read about “comfort women,” and while the book does have a character forced into sexual slavery, the book went so far beyond that.
The story follows two sisters, Hana and Emi, who live in Korea under Japanese occuplation. Hana and her mother are haenyeo, women who dive into the sea and make their living from the food they can pluck from the sea. Emi is too young, so she’s typically on the beach guarding their haul. One day, Hana sees a Japanese soldier coming Emi’s way. Hana leaves the water and manages to keep her sister hidden; Hana is kidnapped by the Japanese soldier, Morimoto, and forced into sexual slavery while Emi is saved.
The story alternates between Hana’s story, set in 1943, and Emi’s story, set in 2011 when she’s an old woman. From the moment Hana is kidnapped, life as she once knew it is over. She spends months as a “comfort woman,” befriending the other woman at the brothel and learning how to avoid beatings from the soldiers. But then, Morimoto returns, and he’s obsessed with Hana, determined to make her his wife, and her life changes to a different kind of torture.
Emi, knowing she only has months to live, longs to find her sister, Hana. She’s never even told her children that she had a sister, and coming clean after 50+ years is a terrifying ordeal.
Throughout the book, it’s clear that all of the main characters suffer because of the war. No one is immune, even the sadistic Morimoto, who originally captures Hana.
This is an excellent book, and I was pleased with the ending, even though I knew it wasn’t a likely outcome. Even the author, in the author’s notes, said the ending likely wasn’t plausible, but she couldn’t bring herself to write what a likely ending would be.
This is a beautiful book that brought me to tears.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.