COMFORT WOMAN by Nora Okja Keller


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 First-novelist Keller, a Korean-American living in Hawaii, offers a shocking and unusual version of the mother-daughter relationship tale, in which a Korean woman whose experience as a ``comfort woman'' servicing Japanese troops during WW II profoundly distorts her own life and that of her Korean-American daughter. Poor, orphaned Kim Soon Hyo was only 12 when her oldest sister raised the money for her own dowry by selling Soon Hyo to the occupying Japanese. One of hundreds of girls kept like animals in stalls and forced to service long lines of soldiers, Soon Hyo was assigned the name Akiko--the name each girl inhabiting that stall had been given--then raped, beaten, humiliated, and adored on a daily basis, according to each soldier's whim. Profoundly traumatized, Soon Hyo struggled to survive by imagining herself emptied of her soul. As the war ends, Soon Hyo escapes to Pyongyang, where she marries an American missionary who knows her only by her hated Japanese name, returns with him to the US, and eventually gives birth to a daughter. When her husband dies, ``Akiko'' finds herself stranded in Hawaii with no money, a five- year-old child to care for, and a tenuous hold on her sanity. Rebeccah Bradley, Akiko's daughter, grows up in the shadow of her mother's periodic bouts of psychosis, periods that a number of locals view as true visitations from the spirit world and pay to witness, thus providing a modicum of financial support for the two females. Rebeccah, ignorant of her mother's traumatic childhood, struggles mightily to free herself from the terror and embarrassment of Akiko's fits, eccentricities, and neglect. It is only after Akiko's death, when Rebeccah herself is almost 30, that she learns the terrible secrets buried in her mother's past. Not at all a pretty story, but a memorable one, powerfully told. Keller brings her Korean characters to vivid, passionate life. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-87269-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997


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