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White Chrysantheum is a fictional story based on horrifying realities of WWII which were brought forward recently. It is about two sisters Hana and Emi who live in Jeju Island in Korea, and belong to family of “Haenyeo”( female divers of the sea). Korea was then under Japanese occupation and women were kidnapped and stolen by the Japanese soldiers to serve as ‘comfort women’-gentle phrase for sex slaves. Hana was taught by her mother to always protect herself and her sister from Japanese soldiers. At a very young age she takes this responsibility and when the time comes she sacrifices herself and gets caught by a Japanese soldier in order to save her little sister. And then begins the gruesome journey of Hana and traumatic life of Emi. Story proceeds with narration of Hana’s past and Emi’s present simultaneously. After reading this book I was not able to pick up another one for a few days. I was so heartbroken and devastated. Having read some WWII fictions, I can say that those were devastating times and irrespective of battle won or lost, common people have always suffered. These fictional books bring forward the facts which are not taught in our curriculum and it is important for us to know the past even if it breaks our heart. Nothing we do will replace the lost lives or console the survivors and their families, but acknowledgement of their sufferings is the least they deserve.
Very moving novel about the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War 2 and the brutal treatment of Korean comfort women by the Japanese Army. The subject matter is brutal hard hitting and very political. It is a heart rending story and novel based on fact and the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers against young Korean girls and women. For those not familiar with that period of history in the Far East it is shocking but never the less a very important topic to discuss and document. This reads as a kind of memorial or mourning for those comfort women and their suffering at the hands of the Japanese. This issue is still a cause of tension between Korea and Japan today and the Japanese Government still today deny or minimise the scale of the atrocities committed against comfort women. The Japanese people and Government should be ashamed of their attitude and denial on this issue.
Mary Lynn Bracht has done those Korean survivors and their families a great service for writing a literary version of this topic. She should be applauded for attempting and succeeding in writing a brave and very moving book. Read it and weep.
It is odd for me to be at a loss for words in a review, but I am. I loved this book. It was utterly captivating. I knew about Korean "comfort" women during WWII, but as any good piece of historical fiction, this book personalised their terrible circumstances and brought it utterly alive. It is one thing to know facts, it is another to crawl into a snapshot of a lifestyle, wretched apart in pain, and to witness its reverberating effects. The author's choice to make the main characters Haenyeo - female divers - who were proud and independent - serves as an effective contrast between freedom and abusive imprisonment. Although the story is about being a comfort woman, I was grateful that the author flipped between Hana and her sister's story. In so doing, we also learn about events leading up to the Korean War, and the continued plight of the Korean people after surviving WWII. Also, the author is unwavering in where she places blame for the abuses to the comfort women. Although she shows human glimpses into Morimoto's own plight, she does not linger there for long. He may have also had tragic circumstances, but she is clear that in that context he has made all the wrong decisions - in dramatic contrast to the Mongolian's, Hana, and her sister. The same is true of Hana's sister's husband. Wronged himself, he perpetuates a cycle of pain. It is refreshing to read a story of chronic rape from such a clear perspective. Hana unflinchingly sees Morimoto for who he is. She never falls for his machinations. She retains a clear sense of herself, and she finds refuge in her mind, thinking of the love of her family. The rapist and captor is wrong. The victim is not and therefore holds no shame. Hana's sister holds her own shame, but in the end, that too is released by her family's love and acceptance. And there is the biggest message - the one we do not often hear in our own cultures. Rape is wrong, and it is cause for shame for the rapist, but for the person who is raped, may there be acceptance and healing in compassion and love. Thank you Mary Lynn for such a wonderfully told book. You have told a tragically age old story just as it should be told.
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht delves deep into the days of Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1940s. It is a devastatingly beautiful read about hardships and pain, but also hope and redemption.
White Chrysanthemum tells the story of a 해녀 (haenyeo, Female Sea Diver) Hana, who is abducted by Japanese soldiers and forced to become a Comfort Woman to the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1940s. We follow her arrival at the brothel, the treatment she receives at the hands of the soldiers, as well as her flight. All the way through, her pain is palpable throughout the pages of the story. Haenyeos, were known to be strong, tough, and independent women—they had to be as they were the breadwinners in their families—but is Hana strong enough to survive in a world where three-quarters of the captured women did not? Her determination is admirable, whoever we do see her reaching her limits, which makes her story believable and so real it is sometimes hard to read on. Simultaneously, we accompany her sister, Emi, through a modern-day Korea, as she tries to come to terms with her past and a dark secret that she even hid from her children. She is searching for her older sister, whose fate remains a mystery to her until this date. She is joining the protests for Comfort Women in Seoul, where she sees a new statue being erected. It is the statue of a young girl… could it be the answer she has been looking for? Both characters are well written and developed. They are unique, strong personalities with their own faults, occasional pigheadedness, that also sees them through great hardships. There is a clear distinction between the sisters’ voices, which makes it easy to navigate between the characters. The shifts from present-day Korea to the past are well presented, and offer glimpses into a country, that admit a horrendous past, has found a unique voice and personality. Admirably so.
The Author, Mary Lynn Bracht, who is of Korean descent, offers a heartbreaking glimpse into a part of World War Two history that remains fairly unknown to mainstream Western Culture. Yet it is a story that needs to be told as many aspects remain relevant in today’s world.
A fictionalised account of a real-life situation, Mary Lynn Bracht's 'White Chrysanthemum' begins in 1945 and looks at the plight of Hana, a young Korean girl who, in the efforts to save her younger sister, finds herself captured by a Japanese soldier, transported to Manchuria and forced into becoming a 'comfort woman' - an unpaid prostitute for the Japanese Army. Proud of her heritage as a 'haenyeo', a female sea-diver, Hana finds it almost impossible to cope with the dreadful situation she finds herself in and when she has the chance to escape, she does so, despite having nowhere to run to and no one to help her. Tracked by the Japanese soldier who originally captured her, Hana is taken to a Mongolian settlement and left there alone until he returns for her. Can she trust these strange people? And what does the Japanese soldier have in store for her?
Moving backwards and forwards in time between 1945 and the year 2011 - where we meet Hana's younger sister, who is now an elderly woman traumatised by the long-ago disappearance of her sister - Mary Lynn Bracht's novel looks at the inhuman cruelty inflicted on young Korean women during the Second World War and of how this part of history has been overlooked. As a debut novel, this book does have its flaws and I felt that parts of the story were rather drawn out, but there is no denying that the author shares with the reader an important and emotive account of how the Japanese treated these unfortunate young women and of the shame these women felt at being used in the inhumane way they were. Also the parts of the novel where Hana becomes part of the Mongolian family and all that she experienced among these people, added another dimension to the story and, overall, I found this an interesting and, in parts, an involving read.
I have been reading tons of books during lockdown. I have been trying to explore new authors, non 'English' authors and to explore new themes. My latest addiction is books which are based and centred around historical fiction. This book came up on my feed, as I have read and thoroughly enjoyed a few, all by Korean and Japanese authors, prior to this beautiful book. It was so moving. It dealt with the harsh and devastating impact of war on family. Young women, sisters and mothers who are torn apart by war and cruelly snatched away by men who subjected them to horrifying abuse. Yes it is fiction, but it is based on true events! Never before have I felt so connected to characters within a story. It is just beautifully written. I had a constant lump in my throat almost throughout the book. The characters are so real, their emotions really resonated with me, as someone who left her home country, leaving behind a beloved sister and mother. Absolutely beautiful book, I highly recommend it.
I love a book that introduces me to a truth I know very little about and entices me to research the facts. This book was one of those. The described beauty of the island makes the story which follows so much more harrowing.The two main characters Hana and Emi are depicted so well by the author and their own very different, unhappy and harsh lives described wonderfully. There is contrast between the brutality of the Japanese and Russian soldiers and the kindness and gentleness of the Mongolian community. It is difficult to understand how any human being can not also see females as human beings. And it continues in the world today. Interesting glimpse of the world of Emi's children.
One of the most moving and heartbreaking tales I have ever read. Based on actual events this is a book that should be compulsory reading as it tells of a very dark side of history and the war that involved Korea and Japan. The atrocities that took place are shocking and horrific and this book does not hold back. The cruelty the women and girls of Korea suffered at the hands of the Japanese is unbelievable and the fact that it left them destroyed and despised by their own people, if they managed to survive and return home, is one of the saddest things I have read.