This powerful novel has two fascinating stories to tell. The recent-time narrative relates the experiences of Michael, a teacher of English, who leaves Canada under a cloud, to work in Korea. He encounters a culture where sex is readily available, but at what cost to the young women who are offering themselves?
This is interspersed with the harrowing WWII story of Eun-Young, a Japanese comfort woman who was raped thirty to forty times each day, in order to keep the invading Japanese invading forces 'happy'.
I remember watching a Korean woman talking about her experiences as a comfort woman back in the nineties, when the full horror of this treatment came out into the open. Her unbelievable life-story has stayed with me, yet this is the first time I have come across a novel that has tackled the subject.
The parallel with modern prostitution in Korea makes for some interesting comparisons. I really related to the character of Michael, who didn't just accept that he was entitled to whatever was available. He considered the women themselves and decided he couldn't accept the proposed 'norm'. Michael has a somewhat rocky relationship with Jin, who is understandably suspicious of all Western men.
The two threads of the narrative are linked by Jin's great aunt, who we meet at the end of the book.
Like Michael, Mark Sampson also spent several years teaching English in Korea, so he writes first-hand about the behaviour and views of the ex-pat community in today's Korea.
I would highly recommend this well researched and powerful book.