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White Chrysanthemum

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In the spirit of Lilac Girls, the heartbreaking history of Korea is brought to life in this deeply moving and redemptive debut that follows two sisters separated by World War II.

Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.

South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than sixty years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?

Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published January 30, 2018

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About the author

Mary Lynn Bracht

1 book319 followers
An American author of Korean descent living in London, Mary grew up in a large ex-pat community of women who came of age in postwar South Korea. In 2002, she visited her mother’s childhood village, and it was during this trip she first learned of the “comfort women.” Her debut novel, White Chrysanthemum, was published in January 2018 by Chatto & Windus Books and Putnam Books. She is represented by Rowan Lawton at Furniss Lawton Agency @ James Grant Group

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,836 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
January 28, 2018

This was not an easy book to read, yet I’m glad that I did. It’s a beautifully written tribute to Korean women who were taken from their homes during the Japanese occupation and forced to be “comfort women”, an inconceivably gentle phrase for the sex slaves they were made to be . It’s also a tribute and a remembrance as the author points out in her note, to all women around the world subjected to rape during wartime. These horrific events of barbaric treatment, this story of what happened to these women is depicted through the lives of two sisters. Their separate narratives are told decades apart, but they each are very much a part of one another’s thoughts and dreams and memories.

Hana, the older sister begins her telling in 1943, when at sixteen she has learned her mother’s skill as a “haenyeo” , a diver, a fisher woman. In spite of the Japanese occupation, their life on this small island off the coast of southern Korea has remained quiet yet vigilant while fearing the Japanese soldiers. Her story of brutal and vicious treatment cuts to the core. What happens to Hana is not for the faint of heart. Hana’s chapters alternate with her younger sister Emi’s when years later in 2011, Emi recounts the past that she has kept from her family, not telling them of the day her sister is taken by a Japanese soldier, as Hana tried to save her little sister from this fate . Emi, though not taken by the Japanese soldier relives the horrific times that she endures. Grief and guilt and love of family, the burdens of the past prey on Emi and she finally tells her children of her losses , her sorrow, the awful things that happened to her village and her family.

It’s a work of fiction but it holds the truth of the past as a good work of historical fiction can do. This appears to be well researched and I read several articles confirming what happened during this time to the Koreans. It seems cliche to say this is heartbreaking and gut wrenching but it is difficult to find anything other than these ordinary words. The thing is - there nothing ordinary about this book. Mary Lynn Bracht in her note says “Of those tens of thousands of women and girls enslaved by the Japanese military, only forty-four South Korean survivors are still alive (at the writing of this book) to tell the world what happened during their captivity, how they survived, and how they returned home. We will never know what happened to the other women and girls who perished before getting the chance to let the world know what they suffered .” With this novel she has given them a voice. I’m not sure why I originally gave it 4.5 stars. It is deserving of all the stars .

I received an advanced copy of this book from G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
March 14, 2018
I love when a story takes me to a place I've never heard of, especially an exotic location in the South Korean sea. But in 1943, that beauty was shadowed by the horrid history of war. Taking hundreds of thousands of lives - not just soldiers, but women who were kidnapped and offered up to soldiers to be 'comfort women': to be raped, humiliated and often murdered all in the name of supporting the Japanese war efforts.

This story starts on Jeju island which sits on the map just south of Korea. It's isolated from the mainland, but not far enough from being impacted by the war. The island is occupied by the Japanese military. Two sisters and their mother are haenyeo: divers of the sea. Hana, the eldest, is taken one day by the Japanese as she finishes a swim and is forced into the life of sacrifice to save her younger sister.

Fast forward to 2011. Emi, the youngest, now 77, is still haunted by that day Hana was taken. The pain of remembrance and her own sufferings follow her as she heads toward her own final fate.

To those women who were courageous in their survival and their circumstances, may we never forget the pain of your confinement; the suffering of your so many losses. This one made me weep. An awesome read. 5⭐️
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
February 2, 2018
This is a book with very hard to read subject matter. It is a beautiful book and an ugly book,and a book based on historical truisms. It is also about historical events of which I had no knowledge.

Hana comes from a long line of strong women who are called haenyo, they dive for a living, capturing the bottom feeders of sea creatures, which will be sold at the market. Emi, her younger sister, still not a strong enough swimmer, stays on shore to guard the catch. The Japanese are the occupiers of South Korea, and the women have been warned about these men, never to be found alone. When she sees her younger sister about to become a victim, Hana does the only thing possible, drawing their eyes from her sister and on to herself. A beautiful act of unselfish love.

Forced to endure sex as a comfort women, to the Japanese, though in her case it is a particular enemy, Morimoto, who will become her keeper and enslaver. The book alternates between the fate of Hana and other women, and Emi, now in her seventies. She still dives, freer in the water than on land with her aged body, and the life she now leads. A story that is both poignant and horrifying, but told very well.

The authors note explains the history behind the story. Between 50,000 and 200,000 of South Korean women were kidnapped and forced to become comfort women to the Japanese army. Most times their parents did not know what happened to them, their fate unknown. I loved both these women, Hana, her strength of character and Emi, who seeks closure. As I said some scenes are hard to read, they are graphic, but they happened. Are in fact still happening to women of many nations. Why is it that men wage war, and women left behind pay the price? What the men went through is acknowledged, we now understand PTSD and other effects of war, though I admit I find even their treatment subpar. What women have gone through is little talked about, if they are lucky enough to return home their family is often too embarrassed to talk and often hide what happened. A guilty shame. So books like this are important. They force us to see and feel for those lost in the shadows.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Lucy.
415 reviews610 followers
June 23, 2019

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

Korea, 1943. Both Hana and Emi have lived their entire lives under Japanese occupation; their Korean names, literature and cultural practices are repressed and made illegal. Living on Jeju Island, Hana is a Haenyeo, a female diver of the sea. Both her and her mother, as well as some other women, enjoy an independence that so few other Koreans can enjoy. Emi is too young and so has to wait on the shore while she watches and waits for her mother and sister to finish their dive and catch of sea creatures.

One day Hana sees a Japanese soldier on the beach heading towards her sister. With all her strength she powers toward the shore, saving her younger sister, but in the process is captured herself and transported to become a 'comfort woman'.

Switching to 2011, we are told of Emi's story and her life spent trying to repress the unhappiness of her past including the sacrifice that her sister made. However, in order to discover peace she must confront her past and valiantly searches for her beloved sister.

The book switches from 1932/1933 under Hana's point of view to 2011 from Emi's point of view. While Hana's point of view describes the absolute horror of being trafficked and repeatedly raped and abused while being a "comfort woman", Emi's story shows the after effects of her sister's disappearance, the Jeju Massacre and her forced marriage to a man that she hates during the Korean War. Despite the ceaseless amount of horror both of these young women faced, it also shows their absolute resilience and bravery, and how their love and memory of each other and their lives as Haenyeo gives them some light and hope in these awful circumstances.

This book highlighted a piece of history I hardly knew anything about. I had heard of the Japanese occupation of Korea but not much else. It is believed that up to 200,000 Korean women and girls were stolen, tricked and sold into military sexual slavery for and by the Japanese military during Japan's colonisation of Korea. Many of these women and girls did not come home and are still missing- their families never finding the answers to their whereabouts or what happened to them. Their tragic stories unknown.

Unbelievably, it was only in 1993 when Japan acknowledged the existence of comfort women, which was then later retracted. It seems as though there is no reparation for these women, no apology or substantial governmental recognition of their stories. There is a silencing of these voices.

This book gave a glimpse into the suffering of Korean women affected by the war, whether these women were taken or left behind. Mary Lynn Bracht, the author, gives the important knowledge of atrocities committed against women and the attention and sympathy these women deserve, otherwise their stories could be lost for ever.

This book fascinated me and submerged me into learning parts of the Haenyeo culture, while also offering me insight into the war. This book left me feeling like my heart had been wrenched from my body, a deep seed of dread and sadness whenever I picked the book up. The story was utterly devastating but important, and was also unputdownable as I just needed to learn and know more about both Hana and Emi's lives.
I think if you enjoyed books such as "A Thousand Splendid Suns" where there is unfairness, devastation and sadness, yet hope and beauty, then "White Chrysanthemum" should be a good read for you.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,097 followers
February 17, 2018
A deeply moving and beautifully written historical fiction novel of human resilience and enduring love of sisters, a story about the Korean ‘comfort women’ prostituted by Japanese soldiers in World War II and two sisters separated as young girls but the bond of sisters remains strong and they never strop thinking about each other..

This was an eye opening and haunting debut novel by Mary Lynn Brecht and while fictional it is based on real life events that are harrowing and disturbing in places to read but I always remind myself that I only have to read about these events " real woman had to endure them and their families have to relive them in trying to find justice and peace for these women" and I thank the author for giving me the opportunity to read and lean about a time in history that was not taught in my curriculam in secondary school. The people in this book are not just make up characters but flesh and blood people in the past whose stories need to be told through fiction or non fiction to educative and keep their memory alive and to seek the truth for a new generaltion. I have lined up a couple of Non Fiction reads to further educate me about this time in our world's ugly history.

I listened to this book on audio and the narrator was excellent, well paced and easy to listen to. I always find historical fiction books really give a terrific insight into history and although they are not 100% accurate they do tend to introduce the reader to events and people in history they may not have been aware of or might never read about and I think that is so important.

I am starting the Rape of Nanking a non fiction book about the Nanking Massacre and the massive atrociities committed by Imperial Japanese Army after it. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
Profile Image for Holly.
1,430 reviews983 followers
April 10, 2019
This book was a fictional tale about an important real-life historical topic, so I really wanted to love this book, but I only ended up sort of liking it. When a book tackles such a horrifying time in history-when Korean women were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military as 'comfort women'-it's hard to balance the need for both captivating storytelling and historical accuracy.

I personally really struggled to emotionally connect with this book despite it's desperately upsetting subject: a teenage girl (Hana) who willingly gets captured in order to save her much younger sister (Emi) from the same fate. I think my lack of emotional connection is mainly because the author chose to write this story in a third person narrative instead of first person, so there was already this built-in distance between the reader and the characters. I'm usually not one to even notice things like that! But when reading a scene that involves something terrible happening, which of these sentences do you feel more connected to:

"I closed my eyes and held my breath"


"She closed her eyes and held her breath"?

See what I mean (pun unintended)? The whole time I felt like I was reading a story, I was never really IN the story. And with a subject like this, I truly think it does a disservice to distance the reader from the horrors that were happening.

But beyond that, I also just felt like the book in some ways just kind of quickly moved past the whole sexual-slavery part. For something that was a pretty central point to the whole book, Hana doesn't actually spend that much page time dealing with it. We're just told at one point that she has been there for 80-something days and then she is suddenly no longer in that specific situation. And that itself was a weird ending to her story - I don't want to get into spoilers for that, but let's just say it never made sense and it was never fully explained, Morimoto was just a cartoonishly evil character with a backstory that made no sense and neither did most of his actions. Meanwhile, Emi's story felt like the absolute filler it mostly was. Her daughter felt like a full character but her son just seemed cold and distant and Emi herself hid her entire (not that interesting comparative to Hana) past for seemingly no real reason. Also, the cause of her was never explained either.

So why did I rate this 3 'I liked it' stars? Because I do feel like this book shined a light on a subject most people (including myself) don't know much about. And it was relatively well written. And I did find myself enjoying the tension/uncertainty of Hana's situation at the end of the book, even though that part came out of left field.

I have not read the other book released just this year about the same subject/timeframe The Island of Sea Women, but I am curious as to how it would stack up against this one.
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,779 followers
February 12, 2018
Powerfully heartbreaking. I am always so appreciative of authors that bring remarkable stories like this to the forefront. How many stories like Hanna’s exist? ‘The list of women suffering wartime rape is long and will continue to grow unless we include women’s wartime suffering in history books, commemorate the atrocities against them in museums, and remember the women and girls we lost by erecting monuments in their honor, like the Statue of Peace.’ These events can not be covered up... knowledge is power and stories like this need to continue to be written. A must read. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Celia.
1,192 reviews152 followers
September 24, 2018
Sometimes, old wounds need to be reopened to let them properly heal

The white chrysanthemum – in Korea, the flower of the funeral, the flower of death. This story tells of death – perhaps not always death of the body; the spirit can die too.

This book tells of the ‘comfort women’, women stolen from Korea to satisfy the sexual needs of the Japanese invaders. Somehow the Japanese think that sexually satisfied men will make better warriors.

This book had me captivated from sentence 1. Historical fiction is my kind of book. And, despite its sadness and horror, oh, I do love this book. It is historical fiction at its finest, full of historical and unfamiliar facts.

In the first 5 sentences alone, I found:

Japan annexed Korea in 1910
Koreans speak fluent Japanese, are educated in Japanese history and culture, and are prohibited from speaking, reading, or writing in their native Korean.
Hana, the protagonist, and her mother are haenyeo, women of the sea, and they work for themselves. Haenyeo are female divers in the Korean province of Jeju and are known for their independent spirit, iron will and determination.

The story of Hana and her family begins in 1943. Hana is an only child until she turns 7 years old. When Little Sister is born, her mother says in a serious tone “You are her protector now, Hana”. Hana promises to protect her and knows this promise is forever.

This is a very fast paced book. In the first chapter alone, we meet Hana, her sister is born, a Japanese soldier abducts Hana, and in order to save her sister as she has promised, she goes with the soldier while her sister hides. Hana is abducted but her sister stays behind.

2011. We meet Emi and quickly learn she is Little Sister… 68 years later. Emi is old and sad and tormented with horrible dreams. She has lost someone she loves. Can she find her?

The story alternates between Hana, whose body is imprisoned and Emi, whose spirit is imprisoned.

Yes, the book is full of gruesome and horrific images. However we need to know these horrible things happened.

I strongly recommend this book to those who love historical fiction and those who care.

Re-read Update
There were things that I noticed on the second read that I did not on the first read. Just as engaging (and sad) on the second read as the first.

Bracht (who is of Korean heritage), wishes to leave you with this final thought:

War is terrible, brutal, and unfair, and when it ends, apologies must be given, reparations made, and survivors’ experiences remembered.

5 stars
Profile Image for Pedro Pacifico Book.ster.
296 reviews3,615 followers
December 22, 2020
Uma das maiores surpresas do ano, a obra é, em parte, ambientada na Coréia sob ocupação japonesa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial - um período que conhecia muito pouco.

Hana, a personagem principal, nasceu em uma comunidade de mulheres que seguem uma tradição muito antiga, que remonta ao ano 434. Desde criança , as meninas aprendem a mergulhar no mar e retirar dali a sua fonte de sobrevivência. As mulheres são chamadas de “haenyeo”, as mulheres do mar. Confesso que nunca havia escutado a história das “haenyeo”, mas fiquei muito impressionado em ver como a tradição segue por tantos anos e a forma de organização dessa sociedade semi-matriarcal.

Mas apesar de estar destinada a seguir a mesma vida que sua mãe e avó viveu, Hana é capturada pelo exército japonês. A partir disso, a personagem encara um período triste e violento em sua vida. Isso porque, a personagem foi capturada para servir como uma “mulher de consolo”, a serviço dos soldados em bordéis, o que foi uma realidade muito comum durante a ocupação japonesa na Coréia.

A leitura é muito sofrida, muito mesmo. Mas mesmo assim a história e a força da personagem mantém o leitor nas páginas que estão por vir. Em algumas passagens precisei parar um pouco e recuperar o fôlego. E o mais triste é saber que até hoje as sobreviventes desse período tão sofrido lutam para que os crimes sejam reconhecidos pelo governo Japonês.

Em paralelo à história de Hana, a autora traz para o presente a narrativa de Emiko, irmã de Hana e que nunca soube o que realmente aconteceu após a captura pelo exército japonês. É uma busca por uma mínima verdade do passado...

O sofrimento das "mulheres consolo” me marcou muito e me deixou com a historia de Hana por muito tempo em minha cabeça. Apesar disso, a leitura é muito interessante, pois retrata momentos da história pouco divulgados ao mesmo tempo em que constrói uma narrativa envolvente e com personagens bem desenvolvidas. Recomendo demais!

Nota 10/10

Leia mais resenhas em https://www.instagram.com/book.ster/
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
488 reviews505 followers
April 4, 2021
Hana y Emiko son dos hermanas que han nacido en la isla de Jeju, Corea del sur. Su destino es seguir juntas la tradición de las mujeres de la familia y convertirse en haenyeo, mujeres del mar. La tradición marca que son las mujeres las que bucean en el mar, y mantienen a su familia con lo que consiguen en él. Pero parece que la vida tiene otra cosa preparada para ellas, ya que viven en una época de guerra y pronto serán separadas.

El contexto histórico donde se enmarca la trama es uno de los que más interesantes me resultan, y es bastante desconocido en occcidente. Japón invadió Corea a principios del siglo XX y esto duró hasta la caída de este en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, momento en el que los coreanos pudieron expulsarlos. Las barbaridades que se hicieron allí siempre me sobrecoge.

Aunque había leído sobre el tema anteriormente, es la primera vez que leo algo muy centrado en las "mujeres de solaz", mujeres que fueron forzadas a la esclavitud sexual por parte de los militares japoneses. Principalmente era mujeres coreanas y chinas, pero también de otras partes de Asia. Y es que este libro es una denuncia a todos esos horrores que le infligieron, a esa violencia sexual que la mujer siempre sufre en periodos de guerra y que rara vez es denunciada. Y es que a día de hoy el país nipón sigue sin admitir lo sucedido, y solo oculta y censura. 2021, increíble pero cierto.

Otro tema que me ha cautivado es el de la tradición de las haenyeo, esas mujeres fuertes e independientes, que se han ganado la vida con sus manos sin la ayuda de ningún hombre, en épocas en la que la única realidad de la mujer era casarse y tener hijos. La fortaleza con la que se presentan a estas mujeres y como las experiencias pasan de madres a hijas es una delicia. Además, claro está, las historias de hermanas bien contadas, siempre me ganan.

Es un libro duro, que no deja indeferente y que consigue crearte mucha impotencia, pero que también da esperanza a través de la lucha de estas dos hermanas. Una historia que emociona, de esas que dejan un poso increíble al acabarlas. Y lo mejor, es que es una historia que enseña, que muestra y denuncia una realidad por la que a día de hoy muchas mujeres siguen luchando para que se haga justicia. ¡Brutal!
Profile Image for Liz.
2,020 reviews2,522 followers
April 3, 2019

This well done historical fiction covers two sisters in Korea, starting during WWII and going right through 2011. While I was familiar with comfort women, what was less known by me was the history of Korea between WWII and the Korean War. I had no idea of the brutality of the South Korean government.

Hana is the older sister. A haenyeo, or sea diver, she is taken off the beach by a Japanese corporal and sent to a brothel in China. Her younger sister, Emi escaped notice that day. Emi’s story is told in 2011 and seen more in a backwards glance.

As you would expect, it’s a sad tale. It’s well written but graphic and hard to take at times.

Bracht does a good job of mixing historical facts into her storyline without disrupting the flow.

I did struggle to buy into Morimoto’s fixation on Hana. And because of that, the ending didn’t ring true to me. Although I did appreciate Bracht’s Author’s Note explaining her reasoning for the ending. I also read Tiger Pelt, by Annabelle Kim, which also covers the history of comfort women and found it to be more believable, although much darker.

This was our book club selection and I can recommend it for other clubs looking for a discussion worthy choice.

Profile Image for Lynn.
861 reviews124 followers
January 11, 2019
This is a difficult book to read but an important one. It tells the story of the “comfort women”, who the Japanese kidnapped and held as sex slaves to service their soldiers during WWII. “Comfort women” is an offensive misnomer, putting a benign label on the constant sexual and physical abuse of these women.

It is told through 2 points of view:
Hana is a 16 year old haenyeo, a female diver of the sea. One day in 1943, she is approached by a Japanese soldier, and to protect her younger sister, she allows herself to be taken into captivity to be a sex slave to the Japanese army.

Fast forward to 2011 and the younger sister, Emi, is in her 70s and has been living with the guilt of her sister’s sacrifice. She has hidden her past from her children, while trying to find out what happened to her sister.

Each sister is wonderfully portrayed. Hana is subjected to extreme cruelty, yet she finds the inner strength to survive. Her spirit is never broken. Emi lives with her guilt, yet makes a life for herself. Neither sister ever forgets the other and the memories that they have of each other gets them through the pain that they must live with. Other characters are equally perfectly portrayed, even the ones you hate.

The book is beautifully written and tells the story with compassion and sorrow. The scenes of Hana’s captivity are harrowing, yet are so necessary to the story. The sense of place is extraordinary. You are diving with the women as they search for their underwater treasures. You are in the brothel with Hana as she struggles to survive. You can feel her fear and her strength throughout the story.

The author’s note at the end of the book gives a lot of historical information about what happened to these women who were kidnapped. To date, Japan has not apologized or given recompense to these women, who are now dying off. The women “believe that Japan wishes to simplify erase the unsightly history of wartime military sexual slavery as though the atrocities never took place and up to two hundred thousand women did not suffer and possibly die in tragic, heartbreaking circumstances.”

As hard as this book can be to read at times, I absolutely recommend it. It is a must read for many, many reasons, not the least of which is that this is still occurring in the world.

“The list of women suffering wartime rape is long and will continue to grow unless we include women’s wartime suffering in history books, commemorate the atrocities against them in museums, and remember the women and girls we lost ...”
Profile Image for Tania.
1,199 reviews269 followers
December 30, 2018
"Instead she swallowed her emotions, until she was able to continue to exist."

This book reminded me why historical fiction is one of my favorite genre's. I learned so much about the Korean war and Korean traditions. I also knew nothing about haenyeo, women of the sea, a community of close-knitted female divers and matriarchs.

The author is an amazing writer, she tackles the very upsetting topic of comfort women - women/girls abducted to be sexual slaves to the Japanese army - with empathy and dignity. I sometimes find that when I read about really harrowing experiences, far removed from anything in my life, it becomes almost too much and my brain shuts down. In White Chrysanthemum, the author made me feel deeply, but without overwhelming me and causing me to become numb.

As the author says in her afterword, we should learn from history so that we don't repeat mistakes previously made - and this book may be specifically about comfort women, but it reminds us about atrocities committed against women in all wars.

An exquisitely written, informative and deeply stirring story about the effects of war. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Karen R.
839 reviews495 followers
January 26, 2018
Subject matter in this novel was heartbreaking to read but paints a legitimate picture of the suffering of Koreans by the Japanese during WWII and post-war. The story alternatively told told from Hana and Emi’s perspectives, sisters who were ripped apart from one another at a young age is powerful. Hana’s story begins in 1943 as a young girl taken by Japanese soldiers to be used as a sex slave; Emi’s story in 2011, as an older woman carrying the guilt of Hana’s disappearance and trying to come to terms with the past.

The sisters’ interwoven narratives relating to this historic atrocity are a sobering reminder of sins of the past and relevance to the present.. This is a book that will be put in a prominent place on my bookshelf, one that has influenced me to reflect on the good life I’ve been given. I am grateful Mary Lynn Bracht chose a topic that I was unfamiliar with. She brilliantly captures the essence of human endurance and spirit. A must read.

Side note: I wondered if any of these women were still alive so did a web search. Very few are. I discovered South Korea passed legislation in Nov 2017 creating a holiday on August 14 each year to recognize the thousands of sex slaves, or "comfort women," used by the Japanese military during World War II. Aug 14 is the anniversary of a 1991 news conference given by victim Kim Hak-soon, the first to publicly testify about her experience as a comfort woman.
Profile Image for Camilla.
184 reviews266 followers
October 10, 2020
4.5 stars!

It's been a long time since I've been this uncomfortable while reading a book, but it usually happens with historical fiction just as this one.

White Chrysanthemum has two narrators in two different timelines: Hana (in 1943) and Emiko (in 2011). Both are haenyeo, women who dive into the ocean on Jeju island, Korea. The story focuses on the impacts of World War II and the Korean War on the regular citizens and it's not the type of thing they teach in school: it centers around the psychological consequences of war, especially for the women. It also displays how some information is carefully hidden from public eye, not alloying the victims to see the justice they deserve. The writing is also a high point of this novel, it's very beautiful and fitting, putting the reader right into the scenario.

I got a translated ARC from a Brazilian publisher, and I'm very glad to have read this. If you enjoyed The Nightingale, this is a similar one and just as good!

(NetGalley ARC)
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,761 followers
December 20, 2017
I have read many, many books about WWII but this is a part of that history that was new for me. Ms. Bracht has composed a novel about the suffering of the Koreans during WWII and it is well researched, well written but entirely heartbreaking.

The story is about two sisters, Hana and Emiko who live on an island, Jeju, off of the coast of Korea.
The novel opens beautifully with Hana being induced as a “Haenyeo”, a woman who dives expertly to sustain her family. It is a difficult but peaceful life and the sisters have known nothing else.

Unfortunately the Japanese also know about these secluded women and have come to the island to forcibly take the young women as their slaves. When Hana sees a Japanese soldier on the shores as she is diving she shows herself, rather than hide, to protect her younger sister Emi from the fate that she fears will befall her.

The story is then told from two points of view. Hana’s story is so violent and terrible we don’t know if she will survive. Emi survives both WWII and the Korean war only to live with a feeling of guilt. She believes that she should have gone with Hana when she was taken. It isn’t until her last year of life that her children help her to let go of her guilt knowing that is what her sister would have wanted.

I won’t go into the plot because there are many reviews where that is given. This book was very difficult to read but it was a story that needed to be told. As a reader I wish that it would have had a little more balance between the “good and the bad” , something to ease the reader a bit after the long chapters about the horrible abuse, but of course the author had her story that she needed to tell.

During the Japanese occupation many Korean women were captured and used as sex slaves in the most unconscionable and brutal way. The women were taken to brothels in Manchuria which were maintained purely for the pleasure of the Japanese military. These women, some as young as 12, were kept in their rooms, barely fed and clothed and repeatedly raped day and night by soldiers. The author states that “some historians believe fifty thousand to two hundred thousand Korean women and girls were stolen, tricked or sold into military sexual slavery”.

The author is of Korean descent and has written a wonderful author’s note. In part she states “The list of women suffering wartime rape is long and will continue to grow unless we include women’s wartime suffering in history books, commemorate the atrocities against them in museums, and remember the women and girls we lost by erecting monuments in their honor, like the Statue of Peace in Korea”.

I am glad that I read the book but I would add a caution that the book is very sexually explicit and perhaps not suitable younger readers.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss, thank you.

Profile Image for Thaís.
90 reviews305 followers
January 22, 2022
4.5: esse livro me afetou fiscamente. Cuidado com os gatilhos!
Profile Image for Jin.
635 reviews117 followers
May 23, 2021
For me (female with Korean roots) this was one of the hardest books I have read. At some point, I just skimmed through some scenes (you will know which scenes I'm referring to; it was too painful) and sometimes I had to pause reading to stop my tears. This story is about a girl who was captured to be a "comfort woman" in 1943 and her sister who tells her story in 2011.
The author does a great job in portraying strong, likeable girls/women with a strong sense for family and love. What I also liked was the diversity of the characters. When I think about it now, the nationality of the character didn't matter much; there were bad and good characters among Koreans, Japanese and so on.

For my taste, the end was too happy and too harmoniously. But you know what? Even if this is based on facts, it is a fiction after all and I will take the happy end as it is. As we all know that there never was (and will be) this kind of end in real life.
I had so many mixed feelings: sadness, anger, more anger and loss. You know, this issue is still on-going. And there are not many people who know about this. Even though it was difficult to read through the book, I hope there will be many others who will choose to read this story.

Btw, I wonder how it is for others to read about their "own history"? How does a Jewish descendant feel when he/she read "Zorn der Lämmer"? Or a Israeli/Palestinian when reading "Apeirogon"? I can't even imagine or describe in proper words the sorrow they must feel.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,427 reviews2,498 followers
October 5, 2017
The true story of Korean 'comfort women' i.e. sex slaves abducted by the Japanese army for the 'servicing' of troops, undoubtedly deserves to be told but this isn't a particularly accomplished or sophisticated novel. In fact, so keen is it to tell a story, that Hana, a 16 year old girl enslaved by a Japanese military officer, spends more time on the run in Manchuria and Mongolia than in the brothel in which she's placed.

Hana's story is interspersed with that of Emi in the present, her younger sister, now an old woman, uncovering family secrets and searching for a trace of her lost sister.

I'm sorry to sound a bit dismissive: this *is* an important story based on the claims that only came out in 1991 that Korean women were enslaved, raped and forced into prostitution by Japanese occupying forces in the run-up to and during WW2. Of course, this is horrific; of course it needs to be told - but as a novel this feels too simplistic and straightforward a treatment.

The author's afterword has a similar naivety about it when it reiterates, again, the platitude that we need to remember history to stop us repeating it - but, as she well knows, women continue to be raped during conflicts in, for example, Rwanda, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq (even as I write this)... the evidence rather shows that we don't learn from history so let's not kid ourselves.

So yes, an important, story, but rather disappointing as a novel.

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,080 reviews7 followers
September 9, 2018
Comfort women.

Isn’t that a nice phrase that conjures up the image of a kind mother figure hugging away your sorrow?

The reality is anything but comforting. It is estimated that between 50 and 200 THOUSAND Korean women and girls were stolen/taken as sexual slaves during Japan’s colonisation of Korea. Forced every day to be raped again and again by soldiers so these same soldiers can have some “comfort” before or after a battle.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Hana and Emi. They come from a long line of Haenyeos, women who dive the oceans every day to feed their families. When Hana gets captured by a soldier she sacrifices herself in the belief that she is sparing her little sister, but Emi faces her own horrors left behind in a village that gets destroyed. Both need to learn how to survive in a world that is no longer recognisable as their own.

The afterword mentions that there are still 44 South Korean survivors left and the Japanese government has yet to properly acknowledge these atrocities committed during the war.

So yes, this is a heart wrenching story, but one that is beautifully told.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,775 reviews1,256 followers
March 22, 2018
In March 2016 I travelled to Seoul to see Pyeonghwabi (the Statute of Peace) … It was a sort of pilgrimage for me to journey half way across the world to set my eyes on the symbol representing, for me, wartime rape not only of Korean women and girls, but of all women and girls the world over: Uganda, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Myanmar, Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palenstine and more. The list of women suffering war time rape is long and will continue to grow unless we include women’s wartime suffering in history books, … , museums .. [and] … monuments

This book can be seen as the author’s admirable contribution of adding fiction to her own list of areas where the wartime suffering of women should be remembered.

Growing up as the daughter of “a South Korean mother and influenced by her community of expat friends” Mary Lynn Bracht has chosen for her debut novel the terrible plight of the Korean “comfort women”.

The book alternates in chapters between two sisters – Hana and Emi, both part of a tradition and community of haenyeo (female sea divers) on the Island of Jeju. The two are separated in 1942, when Hana is 16 and Emi 9 when Hana is captured on a beach by a Japanese soldier – Corporal Morimoto: Hana effectively having sacrificed herself to protect her younger sister.

Hana’s chapters are set in 1943 and describe her harrowing ordeal – first raped repeatedly by Morimoto and then put to work in a brothel before Morimoto (seemingly an opium dealer with connections among a small family of tent-dwelling poppy growers in Mongolia), and who is increasingly disillusioned with the war effort) escapes with her to Mongolia and leaves her with his contacts (there she receives the only respite from her ordeal) before returning to reclaim her. The only thing that sustains her is her hopes for Emi and memories of her family.

Emi’s chapters are set in 2011 – she still dives and although she has both a daughter and a son in Seoul her relationships with them are distant. She visits them and insists on attending (as she does each year when she visits) the Wednesday Demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy – her main motivation being to hope to catch sight or news of her sister. This time coincides with the erection of the Statue of Peace and to her shock she realises that the statue is of Hana. Her subsequent insistence on revisiting the statue, despite her severe ill health (she is suffering from heart failure) finally forces her to open up to her family on her past – both her sister’s capture as a comfort woman, her own shame at the fact she hid while her sister was captured and the further suffering of her parents (and the role their father, her husband played in that suffering) in the 1948 Jeju uprising.

The book is unstinting in its portrayal of Hana’s ordeal – with (at least until the Mongolians) no attempt to lessen or mitigate it and no attempt to portray her treatment as anything other than rape and her capturers as anything other than abusers (not least Morimoto who clearly sees himself as her rescuer). The choice of Hana and Emi’s back story works well – giving a strong sense of community and female solidarity and strength, but one that is still helpless in the face of atrocity. The book does have some faults – principally the narration can at times lapse into exposition, and the ending at least for Hana is perhaps too positive. However given its subject matter, approach and generally favourable reviews, I was surprised not to see longlisted for the Women’s Prize and I think it would have merited a place there. 3.5 stars rounded up.
Profile Image for Vygandas Ostrauskis.
Author 6 books100 followers
March 30, 2021
Didžiulį (ir svarbiausia – gerą) įspūdį daranti knyga. Daug naujų istorinių žinių apie Korėjos – Japonijos santykius, na, o apie HENAJO (moteris nardytojas-žvejes) tikrai iki šiol nieko nežinojau. Apie tai, kad japonai karo metu grobdavo korėjietes (beje, ne tik korėjietes) moteris ir paversdavo kareivių palydovėmis (seksualinėmis vergėmis) buvau skaitęs, bet knygoje pateikta istorija tikrai sujaudino. Puikiai pavaizduota scena romano pabaigoje, kai sesuo paminkle tokioms moterims atpažįsta savo seserį.
Žiauri knyga, bet galėjo būti dar žiauresnė, jei autorė nebūtų į ją įvedusi pasakos elementų. Jos valia – juk skaitytojai dažnai trokšta geros pabaigos...

Iš trūkumų – ne viskas sufantazuota įtikinamai, psichologiškai pagrįstai, yra loginių klaidelių. Pateisinu autorę – juk ji, nors surinkusi galybę istorinės medžiagos, pati tokiose situacijose nebuvo. Ir gerbiu už drąsą – korėjiečių moterys (o gal ir vyrai) turėtų būti dėkingi, kad autorė nepabijojo atskleisti galingosios kaimynės Japonijos gėdingų paslapčių. Dabar, perskaitęs šią knygą, kur kas geriau suvokiu Šiaurės ir Pietų Korėjų istorijas, korėjiečių tarpusavio santykius ir Japonijos bei JAV įtaką tų šalių žmonių atminčiai ir likimams.
Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews112 followers
September 4, 2018
"You are her protector now, Hana."
"Can I rely on you?" her mother asked, her voice stern.
"Yes, Mother, I will keep her safe. I promise"
"A promise is forever, Hana. Never forget."

Such is the conversation that happens between Hana and her mother when Emiko (her liitle sister) is born and one that Hana honors. Korea is under Japananese rule. Hana and her mother are haenyo divers, earning their living by diving on Jeju Island and selling their catch. Emi, stays on the shore while Hana and her mother dive. Upon surfacing one day, Hana sees her sister and a Japanese soldier approaching her. Hana swims as fast as possible to shore and distracts the soldier from Emi and is taken instead. Just sixteen years old, Hana is taken as a "comfort women" for the Japanese army. As Hana is introduced to her new realtity, Emi deals with the weight of her sister's sacrifice.

WOW! This work is hands down the best historical fiction book I have read so far this year. I would rate it 10 stars if I could. Heart-wrenching, eye-opening, raw, impactful, poignant and resonant, this book should be read by everyone. Hana is beyond happy when Emiko is born. She swears on that day that she will look after her, protect her. They are warned by their mother to keep their distance from the Japanese and to never be alone with one. That, however, is exactly what Hana witnesses on the beach and springs into action. She knows that she can either save Emi or herself but not both. Hana makes the gut wrenching choice to take Emi's place but it comes at a steep price. Hana is taken as a "comfort woman" to "service" the imperial army. This book had me from the very first page. The prose is magnificent as its somber yet carries a hopeful and resilient tone. Hana's ordeal is brutal and Bracht manages to describe it in an honest manner without being overly graphic and I will not be forgetting it any time soon. Emi's side of the story is just as touching and no less troubling. I am in awe of thsi author.

The heart of this book is the bond between Hana and Emi. As a haenyo woman (a female diver) Hana has an iron will, a strong determination and an independent spirit and she draws on all of these strenghths to stand up to the soldier. Though the sisters do not physically interact, their bond is tangible. I love the way in which Bracht drew parallels in their individual journeys and how each used their haenyo spirit to fight and persevere. I truly felt for these sisters, as Bracht made their relationship touching and memorable. At the conclusion, while I was deeply angered about their plights and what had been done to them, I did not pity them. I respected them and admired their courage and tenacity.

The backstory for this work is just heartbreaking. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, as many as 200,000 women and girls were taken as "comfort women". Either taken under a guise or snatched from their villages, these women were taken to brothels as sex slaves to "service" the Japanese Imperial Army. Deemed less than human, these women were raped over and over again, several times a day. While women of different countries suffered this way, the majority were Koeans. What is worse though, the survivors could not even speak of their plight for Confucian society valued sexual purity highly. Oddly enough, that is also the reason Korean women and girls were targeted by the Japanese. For many years, the survivors suffered in silence. Kim Hak-Sun was the first to speak up and more followed suit. While its difficult to read about, its important that we do. And most importantly, we must not forget. Thanks to Bracht for bringing their stories to the forefront.
Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,402 reviews292 followers
January 23, 2018
I get the story she wanted to tell, and yes it was good, but the rest was barely ok.

Hana gets taken by the Japanese to become a Comfort woman, which is a sex slave. But I never truly had time to connect and every time I felt her plight I was taken away by another POV. Not that I wanted to dwell in the horror of the brothel, but honestly, she was hardly there that long it seemed. If you really wanted to tell a story, make it tough and hard to read.

Then there was the omg so boring POV of her sister in 2011. She is still trying to find Hana and goes to demonstrations *yawns* And nothing happened and we had to suffer through the POV SO much.

Then something else happens to Hana and that just seemed, come on. Really? It was just another attempt not to deal with the rough stuff.

Life is hard, war is evil and here I should have felt more. It started off well and I was horrified, but then with the constant POV changes I was never in her head enough. You do not need to spare me author.

The afterwards if about how rape is still a constant in war and that is true. I just wish this had truly been Hana's story.

Oh and the ending sucked too.

Ia m torn. I want to give it a 3 for Hana, but 1 for her sister's part. I do not want to give it a two either....no, it annoys me now. It could have been amazing. It fell short.
Profile Image for Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede.
1,938 reviews788 followers
July 20, 2022
White Chrysanthemum is such an incredibly sad and difficult book to read. It is also unforgettable and hard to put down when one has begun to read. Now it's been a while since I finished the book, but I remember how gripping the book was and how much I learned about Korea during and after World War II.

I found that the book's story, the sisters' fates touched my soul. Hana is captured by Japanese soldiers and Emi has to live with the feeling of guilt of seeing her sister sacrifice herself for her. We then get to follow them through their different lives. Hana who struggles to be free, but she's increasingly losing hope as she is put through ordeal after ordeal. Then, we have Emi who looks back on his life, also filled with tragedy. The ending, well let's say it's a very strong ending.

White Chrysanthemum is an incredibly good book, terribly hard to read, but I promise you will feel enriched after you have read it.

Thanks to Bookmark Förlag for the review copy!
Profile Image for Marilyn.
803 reviews239 followers
February 17, 2018
I received a free copy of White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht in a Goodreads give away in exchange for an honest review. After reading what this novel was about I couldn't wait to read it. Prior to reading White Chrysanthemum, I was embarrassed to confess that I had little to no knowledge of this part of Korea's history and the destiny of those girls that were victimized during World War II by Japanese soldiers. Their fates were heart-breaking.

White Chrysanthemum is the story of two sisters, Hana and Emi living on Jeju Island, Korea during the Japanese occupation. They became separated as a result of World War II. Hana, the oldest sister, was a haenyeo, or female diver. This was an occupation that all the females in Hana's family had followed. It provided her with fame and independence. She was one of the better divers and was proud to continue in her ancestor's footsteps. Hana's little sister, Emi, adored her big sister. She also aspired that one day she would become a haenyeo. For now though, her job was to watch over their catch and make sure the seagulls stayed away from it. Emi was doing just that on the fateful day when Hana spied a Japanese soldier heading toward her little sister on the beach. To save Emi, Hana swam to shore to distract the soldier so that Emi would be safe. Hana was captured in her place and transported to Manchuria. There she became a "comfort woman" living in a brothel where she was forced to give herself to Japanese soldiers. She was all of sixteen years old.

The story of White Chrysanthemum alternated between life in Korea in 1943 and life in South Korea in 2011. Although Emi remained on Jeju Island all her life, and also becomes a haenyeo, her life was not easy. She blamed herself for the fate her big sister met and carried that guilt around with her for her entire life. The fate of both her mother and father were tragic and shaped her future as well. She was forced to marry. Her two children were what allowed her to go on. She chose to bury her tragic past deep inside of her. As her children became adults and moved to Seoul, Emi was finally able to confront her past and come to peace with it. She was finally able to confide in her children and share the burdens of her past with them.

There were so many that suffered as a result of World War II. All these stories must be heard and remembered so that they can never be duplicated. We live in such a scary world. The more we know about these horrors the better we are to fight back and prevent them from happening again. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht was an excellent, unforgettable novel. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for RoseMary Achey.
1,357 reviews
May 15, 2017
A heartbreaking tale of two sisters beginning in 1943 as one of the sisters is kidnapped by a Japanese solider in occupied Korea. Forced into sexual slavery she served as a Comfort Woman to members of the Japanese military. The sister left behind spends the remainder of her life looking for her stolen sibling.

The writing is good, the story well researched but some passages will be tough for mild mannered book clubbers. An important part of history that many of us are unaware and I thank the author for bringing this to the forefront.
Profile Image for Alice Almeida.
71 reviews23 followers
March 31, 2021
favoritado em 2020

O quanto temos acesso à história? e de que lado da história nos é contado?

A sensação de ler Herdeiras do Mar, é forte, impactante, te coloca como espectadora de uma história que se traduz em realidade e que você não conhece. Foi uma experiência que se assemelhou a quando li torto arado e holocausto brasileiro, parte de mim era revolta, por nunca ter tido acesso a esse tipo de informação, por meio algum, parte de mim era dor.

A história, novamente, de duas irmãs separadas e unidas, a história de uma cultura, novamente escravizada e marginalizada. Passado e presente. Suas marcas. Mulheres, meninas coreanas que temem o dia que ficarão a sós com soldados japoneses e são intituladas de “mulheres conforto”. Mulheres estupradas, violentadas, apagadas. Mulheres que negam suas raízes, seus nomes, suas vozes, mas essas continuam. A ocupação japonesa. Apagadas também são suas histórias, suas vidas, suas dores e sonhos.

“Coma as histórias da haenyeo e das mulheres de consolo, consegui criar uma familia de mergulhadores com habilidades unicas que as ajudariam a sobreviver as atrocidades da guerra” - Mary Lynn

Um livro que te faz recorrer a material de apoio do qual nunca teve acesso. Pesquisar sobre a história de uma outra cultura da qual não foi lhe ensinada é traçar o caminho necessário. Não tem como não sentir as herdeiras do mar. Não tem como querer ouvir e fazer suas histórias serem contadas.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
March 9, 2018
Putting this one aside. The third person distant narrative plus lots of tell and very little show is making this read like a textbook. Pachinko is still my number one rec for Korean historical fiction.
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