16-year-old Hana dives with her mother as Jeju’s female sea divers “haenyeo” during the Japanese occupation of Korea. One day, she is taken by a Japanese soldier, sacrificing herself to protect her little sister, and ends up as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers in Manchuria. Paralleling her story is her younger sister’s story as a grandma, recounting her life after Hana’s kidnapping, always expecting a reunion with her sister one day.
Bracht’s matter of fact description of the treatment of Korean girls comes across as the brutality it had to be, and it’s a hard, but necessary, read. I had heard of comfort women, but she brings the concept down to an individual level for better understanding. History is woven into the story seamlessly, and characters remain true to themselves while becoming part of that history. Hana is left stronger in a situation that prevents her from returning home, but Bracht gives her a bittersweet ending without romanticizing it (maybe a little bit).
Readers who appreciate historical fiction that paints a less pretty and more realistic portrait of atrocities perpetrated on the most vulnerable of society will like this story that brings it down to a personal level for clarity and emotional response. If you love complex characters in impossible situations, read this story.
I was fortunate to receive this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway.