White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I chose to read this book for my library’s AAPI challenge. I enjoyed the book very much.One thing I really appreciated is that unlike a lot of books that take several chapters to begin the story, this one dove right in, with a lot of action even in the first chapter! I found it hard to put the book down!
The story is told in alternating points of view, a technique that work really well for me in this book. Hana, the older sister, tells her story as current in 1943, when Japan occupied Korea and was in the midst of WWII. Emi, the little sister, tells her story in present day (almost) 2011, but much of the story she tells takes place in the past, and fills in the blanks of Hana’s story. As the story is about kidnapping and the forced sexual slavery of the ‘comfort women’, there is a lot of physical cruelty and it gets intense at times. I appreciated the breaks provided by alternating to Emi’s story, though it was not without cruelty of its own.
I liked most of the characters in the book, but was especially drawn to Hana. I particularly enjoyed reading of her days in Mongolia. Many of the events related in the story were new to me. I may have heard of the Japanese comfort women, but I hadn’t realized it wasn’t usually a voluntary ‘contribution’ and that the women weren’t always Japanese. I didn’t know much of the history of Korea either before or after WWII, so this was interesting to me. And I was fascinated with the details of the haenyeo women, the Korean women who dive the ocean to provide food and income for their families. I also did not realize that there was a movement for the plight former comfort women to be recognized and apologies made, and that this movement still is going on today.
I think this would make a good book club selection for groups who are not overly squeamish. There are scenes of sexual violence as well as physical violence that some readers may not want to read. For those that are not opposed, there is plenty to discuss, from the obvious sex slave trade to war in general and the consequences of war to even those who are not direct participants. There is a book club kit available on the publisher website that includes discussion questions and background information.
I read an ebook copy borrowed from my local library.
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