A GIFT OF THE EMPEROR by Therese Park

A GIFT OF THE EMPEROR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Newcomer Park offers a graphic but stilted addition to the growing fiction (Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman, p. 161; Paul West's The Tent of Orange Mist, 1995, etc.) about Japanese exploitation of thousands of Asian women during WW II. Soon-ah's father, a Presbyterian minister, is murdered by the occupying Japanese, her mother is raped, and her elder brother is drafted and sent to fight in the Pacific. Then the 17-year-old Korean schoolgirl herself is dragged from the cellar where she's been hiding. Like her classmates, she is chosen to be one of ``the Emperor's special gifts to the soldiers,'' a cynical euphemism for a cruel reality. Within days of their capture, Soon-ah and her friends are transported to a Japanese troopship bound for the Pacific war zone. Soon-ah, who narrates her own story, vividly describes the mass rapes by the drunken soldiers on board; the numbing life of bad food and daily multiple sexual encounters once at the camp; the outbreak of one disease after another; her own aborted pregnancy; and her growing friendship with Sadamu, a war correspondent, who interviews her so that he can expose the actions of the Japanese military. Eventually, Soon-ah is moved to a brothel that services only officers, and where conditions are slightly better, but Sadamu, now in love with her, suggests they escape. The two take a boat to a tropical island, but even it has been contaminated by war--they find and bury bodies of US Marines recently killed there. After the US Navy rescues them, the couple must part: Sadamu joins the OSS, and Soon-ah stays in Hawaii. At war's end, she's repatriated to a now-divided Korea for a bittersweet reunion with her remaining family. War crimes against women are memorably described here, but, sadly, by characters that seem more like one-dimensional witnesses than vibrantly complex fictional creations.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-883523-21-4
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1997