Sometimes we see the news on TV, feel engaged and properly outraged at the injustice, and then promptly forget about it. This has been true for the issue that is the backdrop of the Daughters of the Dragon.
Anything that mentions World War II instantly hooks me, in particular, especially if it relates to the Japanese attempt to annex Asia. My grandfather was a World War II veteran and he survived the Death March in the Philippines and being a POW in a Japanese prison camp. My grandmother experienced the fear and dread that a soldier’s wife felt when trying to learn about the fate of her soldier husband. My father and his older siblings were children during the war and I remember the stories that he used to tell me about the horrors that he witnessed as a child. He had particular opinions about the Japanese and Korean soldiers that were in the Philippines at the time. And I must admit, I had prejudices when I started reading the book.
The Daughters of the Dragon, while fictional, deals with the very harrowing reality that the Japanese Imperial Army did physically and emotionally damage a lot of women by forcing them to be sex slaves during the war. I remember seeing news clips of the Filipino comfort women demonstrating in front of the Japanese embassy in Manila when I still lived in the Philippines. At the time, I was young and almost completely unaware of the extent of damage that the Japanese Imperial Army was wreaking on the whole of Asia, let alone the experiences of other countries. My view was very myopic because it was trained on what I knew about the Japanese from my dad’s stories.
Without going into spoilers, this book provides you with insight into the thoughts of a young woman experiencing the rape and physical abuse that all those comfort women went through. And although it is an uncomfortable read because of the topic, I found William Andrews’ writing very insightful. The way he conveyed the thoughts and feelings of the central character Hong Jae-hee was quite discerning. I found myself feeling alternatively angry, fearful, uncharacteristically helpless and very, very sad. The narrative wasn’t emotional. It felt almost matter-of-fact, but despite that, it didn’t feel antiseptic or dispassionate. The realistic description of the surroundings, the people and the kind of interactions allowed almost a cinema-like view of how the story unfolded. I struggled to put the book down and would find myself being awake at 1AM trying to finish “just this chapter”.
I’ve bought the entire Dragon series after buying this book because I wanted to know what happened next! But, also, as a result, I’m reading more about the plight of these girls – children really, who I now know have come from the Philippines, Korea (where this book is set), Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan. It makes me want to know more. It makes me wonder about the scars that my grandfather and grandmother hid from their children and their grandchildren. It makes me realise that the cost of war, of imperialism is more than the amount in currencies that are reported.
Onto the next book! I’m reading The Dragon Queen next!