Review: White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Look for your sister after each dive. Never forget. If you see her, you are safe.

Living on Jeju Island under Japanese occupation during the Second World War is anything but simple. Hana and her mother are haenyeu, women of the sea. They dive into the deepest waters and look for sea creatures to sell on the market. Living in a constant fear and suspicion, Hana learned from a young age not to trust Japanese soldiers and never stay alone in their presence. One day during their ordinary workday with her mother while Hana’s younger sister Emi waits on the beach, Hana sees a Japanese soldier approaching Emi. Mortified she hurries to the shore to save her little sister before she’s kidnapped like many other girls before. Hana catches the soldier’s attention and saves her sister. Among other girls, Hana is taken in the unknown direction far away from home to serve Japanese military as a “comfort woman”.

Emi lived her life with deep regret and shame, for letting her big sister sacrifice herself for her. She never knew what happened to Hana and she kept this secret for many years. Now she feels her last days approaching and she must make the last effort in finding her sister and tell the truth about her life to her children.

You were afraid that the way of life or death had come,

So you went without even saying you were going.

Like falling leaves scattered by the early autumn wind,

Borne from one branch, no one knows where they are going.

Ah! I will wait for the day to meet you in Mitachal,

While praying and seeking enlightenment!

First, I want to thank the author for introducing to me this subject and the stories of those brave Korean women who struggled during the war. I wasn’t familiar with this part of history and I’m glad I read this book and got a chance to get to know these stories.

The story of Hana and Emi hooked me from the first page. I’m stunned with the number of difficulties these women had to go through. It was emotional and stirring read. It’s not an easy book to read but it’s an eye-opening book on the subjects everyone should know about. I can’t get tired of admiring the brave and strong women whose fates led them to go through so much unfairness and cruelty. Their strength to survive and have hopes for the future and not become bitter.

Hana and Emi’s story is very rich, emotional and tragic. I enjoyed how their relationship was described, the sisterhood bond that pushed them through the tough times. It can’t leave anyone indifferent, that’s for sure. I’m surprised it’s a debut novel. It’s beautifully written and the plot never got too slow or sloppy. It was perfect. The author did a great job of researching and the historical details are spot on. I loved it!

 

Rating: 5/5

 

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