Chatto & Windus | January 2018 | 320 pgs
Source: Library

I liked the title of this book, but the subjects covered and the story are both sad and heartbreaking. 

Set alternatively between the time period 1943 and 2011, this story follows two sisters who are separated by World War II and their struggle in living their life amid the difficult times. Sixteen-year-old Hana comes from a family of haenyeo and like other women of the island community in Jeju, they earn their living as female divers. Because of their profession, they're usually strong willed and determined and young Hana is no exception. One day while diving she sees a Japanese soldier heading to her younger sister, Emi, where she guards the day's catch on the beach. Remembering her mother's words about not getting caught by the soldiers, Hana swims as fast as she could to the shore. She managed to divert the soldier's attention to Emi, but unfortunately she did so by sacrificing herself as the bait. And this begins Hana's harrowing journey as a "comfort woman" in a Japanese military brothel; she is one of many girls and women who are taken and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese army. 

Fast forward to 2011, Seoul. Emi is an elderly woman who is blessed with children and grandchildren. However, there is never a single day that she wouldn't think of her beloved elder sister and think of the sacrifice she'd made so many years ago. None of her family knew about her painful past; and till present she still harbours the hope that she'd be able to reunite with Hana one day, though it seem impossible given the time span. 

I've learnt a bit about haenyeo and even seen a few of them in action when I'd the chance to visit Jeju a few years back. Most of the women are fit and agile despite they're at least in their fifties and above. I was in awed of their physique and most of all, the determination and the perseverance they radiated. Reading about Hana reminded me of them; and I could imagine how those traits reflected in our young Hana when she tried to protect Emi. The author captured the characters' emotions beautifully; and she has done a great job in balancing fiction and history in this book. There are some scenes which are horrific and gruesome, yet I feel it isn't right to omit them either and that it is to acknowledge what they'd gone through would never be forgotten. 

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10 Responses
  1. jenclair Says:

    The horror of what comfort women had to endure disturbs me anew each time I read about it. This sounds like an important book.

  2. Lark Says:

    This one does sound very sad...but also a story that needs to be told and read so that people remember what happened to women like them in the war.

  3. Kay Says:

    I agree that the book sounds quite sad and certainly horrific behavior. I also agree that these stories need to be remembered and especially that women like this would be remembered. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of this book, Melody.

  4. I have to read this one. I don't think I had heard of it before your review, Melody. What a heartbreaking story--and yet one that deserves a voice and needs to be told. I am adding this to my wish list right now.

  5. Melody Says:

    Jenclair - Indeed, Jenclair. I really can't imagine the sufferings the comfort women had to endure during that difficult times.

  6. Melody Says:

    Lark - My thoughts exactly, Lark.

  7. Melody Says:

    Kay - I've to admit it was the title and cover that first caught my attention and after reading the blurb, I know I've to read it.

  8. Melody Says:

    Wendy - I'll be looking forward to your review if you read it, Wendy.

  9. Iliana Says:

    Oh my goodness I can imagine how this would be a difficult & sad book. I hadn't heard of this one so thank you for featuring it!

  10. Melody Says:

    Iliana - It was a sad story yet a powerful and an unforgettable one.

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