Friday, October 26, 2007


Well.. technically, i didn't read this book. I actually listened to it..i experimented with an audio book. It was a beautiful experience. there was something about this particular book that made it good to listen to. i have tried many audio books after that and havent really succeeded even getting beyond the first chapter.
For those of you who are not aware, Elie Wiesel, the author of this book is a Nobel Prize winner and a holocaust survivor..and that is what this book is about.. his time in the concentration camp in the final year of the holocaust. It is a very gripping story. It is everything that we have heard of..the ghettos, the camps, the burning alive, the separation from families, etc etc and much more. But the author connects with you in a beautiful way. You get totally into the book and you can actually feel the book .It was a beautiful experience but sad as hell.
Though he eventually survives and get away free, you don't feel happy when you finish the book. The impact of the concentration camps is too great. It leaves you feeling sad and moody for days on end. I couldn't get myself to write about the book as soon as I read it. I just had to let it totally sink in and get over it to actually sit and write about it.
It is the most amazing book ever. A glimpse into the much heard-about concentration camps through the eyes of someone who has actually been there! So many stories that I have heard about the camps were so gruesome that there were times I thought that they were just made-up! how could anyone be so cruel in the world? And then, I read this book. And i know that it is all true.
You MUST MUST get hold of this book if you can and read it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Comfort Woman

When i picked up this book, i had absolutely no idea that i was getting into something that would really haunt me for a long time to come. For those who are already familiar with the term "comfort women" from the world war II, this of course would not be too much of a surprise.. but I had never heard of the word before i had the book in my hands. A review on the back cover of the book made me Google up the term "comfort women" and the Wikipedia article that i read came as a complete shock to me.

"comfort woman" is a euphemism used for nearly 200,000 women that were recruited by the japanese army as sex slaves to serve the japanese soldiers. I am , of course, using the term "recruited" very loosely here. What started as just recruiting prostitutes to serve the army soon got out of hand. Women were deceived, taken by force, bought from their parents, etc and forced into this. Majority of these women were from Korea, China and other japanese occupied territories. Whether the japanese army was directly involved in forcibly taking these women is till a matter of debate for many historians. some claim that the army was directly involved in the "recruiting " process. Others claim that there is no evidence that the army was directly involved. They mgiht have used agents to get the women and hence, were not responsible for the way the women were collected.

Whatever the case is, what happened after that is completely heart wrenching. Nora Okja keller attempts to bring this cruel practice to light by basing her fictional story, comfort woman, around this scenario. The book tackles many issues at the same time.. on one side there is a korean woman with her daughter in hawaii who lives with a secret past..a past that she is ashamed of..a past she would never EVER talk about in her life.. on the other side, there is the daughter, living in hawaii and dealing with her mom and her obsession with korean traditions..the very same traditions that seem to alienate her from her american peers. She is ashamed of her mother and her peculiar ways and doesnt make an attempt to understand her.

"On the fifth anniversary of my father's death, my mother confessed to his murder" begins the book.. that line caught my attention and of course I couldnt free myself until i finished the last page. There are two narratives through the book - the voice of beccah, through which we get to know her deep affection for her mother, her obvious pain at being shunned by her peers, her confusion at being forced to follow traditions that she has no link to..traditions that are bring scorned at by her peers. All that pushes her to the extent of being ashamed of her mother. Somehow, she forgets the fact that her mother had a life before she married her father. She never bothers to inquire about it.. until it is too late..
the other voice is the voice of akiko, the mother.. and she talks about her frightful past as a comfort woman- the tortures she underwent in the camps, her escape from the camp, her guardian angel , induk, who is created out of her guilt. guilt due to the inability to do anything when she should have actually done something.
Nora beautifully brings out the life of a comfort woman, not only during the war times but also when the ordeal is over and they return to seemingly normal lives. Going through such an ordeal can either make or break a person. Difficult times always do that. Your first reaction would be to think that it definitely broke Akiko. She seems to have lost her mind in many situations and goes through phases where she can connect with the dead (i am still VERY skeptical about people who claim the ability to do this.anyways, thats a completely different story). She even seems to have buried herself deeply in traditional customs which might have seemed out of place in present day Korea, let alone Hawaii. But then thinking more deeply about it, I personally feel that it actually made her a stronger woman. It definitely takes more than courage to put what has happened behind you and never ever bring it up with people you love. It shows her determination to be in charge of herself and her emotions and not wallow in self pity. That again, is just the way i see it. I can esily see people's arguments about how her decision to keep it to herself could have been her weakness - she did not have the courage to face the reality and come to terms with it. I am hounded by this question too. It is really tough to figure out what the braver thing to do in such a situation would be.
Sometimes, I go back to thinking about Induk and her decision to end her life rather than go through shit in the hands of the Japanese. Was that her way of saying "I am in charge of my life. No one can mess with me and make me do things I don't want to do" or was it more like "I can't handle this torture anymore. I don't think I can survive this". Sometimes, i am forced to go with the latter and that is only because she preferred to instigate the soldiers into killing her rather than ending her life herself.. was that a sign of cowardice?
The book is not necessarily a literature masterpiece. Signs of a debut novel are written all over it. But what seems to be more important in this case is the content. By making a fiction out of the situation, Nora has brought a stigmatized and hidden truth more into the open. She has exposed more readers to the concept of comfort women and we have to commend her for that!