In Korea, 1942, Hana is a haenyo, a diver who provides for her family by what she finds in the sea. Her heritage makes her proud, and she’s fiercely protective of her family. Then Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier. As a result, she is sent to Manchuria to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. When other girls surrender and give up, Hana’s pride as a haenyo keeps her going. She will make it home.
In South Korea, 2011, Emi has been searching for her sister for over 60 years. She hasn’t forgiven herself for being the reason her sister was taken away, and she wonders if she can find Hana and gain forgiveness for herself. But Emi has been hiding the truth from her children, and she must shine light into the dark places of her life if her children are ever to heal their own wounds from the war that scarred Emi’s home and family forever.
White Chrysanthemum was not an easy, fun book to read. This book tells the harrowing story of untold numbers of Korean women, and the horrors inflicted on them in the 1940s. Told from Hana’s and Emi’s viewpoints, this story is emotionally wrenching and sad, but beautifully written and moving. Very much worth reading.
(Galley provided by Putnam in exchange for an honest review.)