Maddie and Ellis are trapped by money—his family’s—while a second world war rages in Europe, as he cannot serve in the war due to a medical condition. When his father kicks them out of his family home for their unseemly behavior, Ellis determines to win back his love by redeeming the family name from his father’s loutish attempt to prove the Loch Ness monster. In Scotland, Maddie is alienated by her husband, whose loyalty is to his best friend and their travel companion Hank. She discovers more about her marriage and their friendship than Ellis does about Nessie, and she begins to question everything about her life, and even her husband’s “medical condition.” As Ellis and Hank display boorish behavior toward the locals, Maddie finds comfort in their compassion for her. She ends up caring for an injured employee of their inn, endearing herself to the innkeeper and his employees.
This story flows well, with characters who retain their integrity, as allies shift and secrets come to light. Gruen represents the complexities of emotions and relationships, with betrayals and revelations as catalysts. Class distinction in all its petty elitism is laid out perfectly, emitting its fear and paranoia. In the end, a love story emerges like a butterfly.
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.