White Chysanthemum – Mary Lynn Bracht

Synopsis

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.

My review

This story will stay with me forever. White Chrysanthemum is a story of importance that should be shared with the world. It should be shared to acknowledge the atrocities of war, to share the suffering of the women who were taken from their families and to share how love can transcend time.

Although this is a work of fiction, the story is based on significant aspects of Korean history. Prior to reading this novel and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I was unaware of the extent of the Korean people’s suffering. This is why historical fiction is my favourite genre. I learn a lot, which often leads to further reading and understanding. Young Korean girls and women stolen from their villages, families and homes were placed into brothels, having to service Japanese soldiers. They were raped over and over again. There were times when reading this novel that I had to put it down due to how tragic the content is.

Mary Lynn Bracht is an author who has the ability to write a story of historical significance whilst making the fictional characters come to life. Her dual timeline is intelligently connected and I did not prefer one narrator over the other.

Emi and Hana, sisters from the island of Jeju are brought up in a loving family. Their mother is haenyeo, as are the women in the community. Haenyeo are women who ‘make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea’. This aspect of Korean island culture is very interesting. Emi and Hana’s world is turned upside down when Hana is taken by a Japanese soldier. She becomes a comfort woman. Bracht’s character development is subtle and allows the reader to feel what the sisters are feeling. The relationships between the women Hana meets and herself, along with the horrors she experiences and witnesses had me in tears. Emi’s recollections of times with her family prior to her sister being stolen are emotive and beautiful. Emi and Hana’s bond and love transcends time.

The last few chapters tied the plot together in a way that I had never imagined. What a story, what a history and what an author! This is a novel I would highly recommend.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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