White Chrysanthemum
by Bracht, Mary Lynn

". . . a sweeping historical debut for fans of Lilac Girls, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Kristin Hannah that brings to life the heartbreaking history of Korea through the deeply moving and redemptive story of two sisters separated by World War II" -

Mary Lynn Bracht completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. An American author of Korean descent living in London, she grew up in a large ex-pat community of women who came of age in postwar South Korea. In 2002, Bracht visited her mother's childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the “comfort women.” White Chrysanthemum is her first novel.

Her sister didn't see the Japanese soldier on the beach, but Hana did. The 16-year-old was diving into the sea off their Korean island, earning her livelihood by harvesting the seabed, as her mother had taught her. The next few moments would change the course of both hers and her sister's lives, as Hana saved her sister from catching the attention of the officer, only to be captured herself. Imprisoned in a brothel in Manchuria to serve as a "comfort woman" for soldiers to rape, and given special attention from the man who captured her on the beach, Hana hangs on to her fighting spirit in even the darkest circumstances, never giving up the hope of escape. More than half a century later, her sister faces her own struggle with the burden of Hana's sacrifice and the secrets she kept from her family about what she suffered after being forced into a loveless marriage. This captivating and heartbreaking debut novel honors the many thousands of women who were enslaved through WWII. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

A debut novel about the Korean "comfort women" prostituted by Japanese soldiers in World War II—and the strong bond between two sisters separated by the conflict. Sixteen-year-old Hana lives with her parents and younger sister, Emi, on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea. It's 1943, and though the country has been under Japanese occupation for decades, the family has lived a relatively peaceful existence: Hana and her mother are haenyeos (divers), and her father is a fisherman. Then Hana is kidnapped by a Japanese soldier and brought to a military brothel, where she and other young Korean women are forced into sexual slavery. She tries to escape several times, without much luck. Hana's sorrowful story is intercut with Emi's narrative, set in 2011 on Jeju Island and in Seoul. Coerced into a loveless marriage with a Korean policeman, Emi is now an elderly widow with two adult children and horrific memories of what happened to her parents and her village in the run -up to the Korean War. Emi is still searching for her lost sister and blaming herself for Hana's disappearance—Hana had shielded Emi from the Japanese soldier, preventing her from being captured. Both narratives end on hopeful, albeit somewhat unbelievable, notes. The book's author, an American of Korean descent, writes well—the passages describing the sisters' early lives are quite lyrical—and she's adept at weaving in historical material about Korea and its fraught relationship with Japan. (The Japanese only apologized for the comfort women in the 1990s, and controversy persists.) But the novel is so relentlessly and explicitly brutal it runs the risk of numbing, or perhaps exhausting, the reader. The white chrysanthemum is a Korean symbol of mourning—appropriate for this worthy novel. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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