TITLE: Comfort Woman
AUTHOR: Nora Okja Keller
PUBLICATION: 1998 by Penguin Books
Beccah thought that she knew her mother as a woman who believed in spirits and that wishing could kill a man, but after her mother’s death Beccah discovers that there was another mother she never knew with a past she could never imagine.
WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .
I’ve read a book by Nora Keller before and that one was called Fox Girl, which I found while browsing in the library stacks for something new and different to read. I remember random scenes from it and the overriding emotions, but my memory recollects how depressing it was overall. I don’t remember how I came across the knowledge of Comfort Woman, perhaps a blog review, but I’ve had a borrowed copy for awhile and I read bits at a time of it.
I first encountered the comfort women of the Japanese military from Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking so the fact that soldiers used a young girl like a prostitute wasn’t a shocking revelation for me as I read this novel. The book alternates between Akiko and her daughter Beccah and both women tend to dip in and out of the past to the present and to the past again so the flow seems a bit all over the place. Most of Akiko’s reflections involve her life from a small child and the experiences she has thereafter, but it’s peppered with thoughts about her daughter. I did wonder how a woman like her would have a husband after the ordeal that she went through, but all is explained. And the daughter’s perspective seems about like all of us would if we had such a mother, shame and the inability to claim her when pressed.
It wasn’t a beautiful work of prose that had me begging for more, but I will confess that it had some interesting imagery. I have noticed a theme in the two books I’ve read of Keller’s where she has a young girl the victim of sexual assaults and the recovery thereafter. Comfort Woman isn’t for everyone. I’m sure some would view it as a somewhat confusing piece, and I often felt myself in a surreal narrative with Akiko’s musings about the spirits that haunted her throughout her life. Although you are left wondering if sometimes the mother’s past hasn’t indeed driven her to madness to cope with it. The experiences at the camp keep coming back in Akiko’s viewpoint chapters and I am sure that there are readers who might find it difficult to read in some of those portions.
In a way it’s what I expected, but then again it’s unlike what I expected. I think it would be worth looking into if your library has a copy.