- Hardcover: 303 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393038076
- ISBN-13: 978-0393038071
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War Hardcover – August, 1995
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One of the ravages of war has always been rape, but in the 1930s and '40s the Imperial Japanese Forces made it systematic, forcing thousands of women into sexual slavery for their soldiers at highly organized "comfort stations." Drawn mostly from Korea (which was then ruled by Japan), the "comfort women" who tell their horrific stories in this book were shipped to the front lines and all over the war zones, often arriving in the same shipments with munitions and food. Like those staples, their sexual services were intended to keep an army working and alive; a common superstition among the troops was the belief that sex before battle could magically ward off injury. This searing, painful chapter in history was uncovered in part by a Japanese journalist, who came across photos of the women in classified documents. --Francesca Coltrera --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Most categories of atrocity committed by Japanese troops during WWII were prosecuted at the 1946 Tokyo war-crimes trials. One major category was ignored, however: the thousands of women, mostly Korean, who were coerced into sexual slavery for the pleasure of the Imperial Army. Hicks (Hong Kong Countdown) begins his stark report with a historical survey of wartime sexual exploitation of women, then narrows the focus to the "comfort women" system developed by the Japanese. The copious testimony of victims is shockingly graphic. The author reviews the progress of a class-action suit brought by surviving comfort women in Tokyo District Court in 1991: the Japanese government has admitted complicity, but no apology or compensation has been tendered. This significant addition to "the poor record of mankind to womankind, especially in war," properly approaches the subject as a human-rights issue tied to the rise of feminism in Asia. Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Denise Affonço was born in Phnom Penh of a French-Indian father and a Vietnamese mother. Well-educated and fluent in French, English and Vietnamese (she learned Khmer during the Khmer Rouge years), she describes an experience that typifies the era: backbreaking physical labor, inhuman living conditions, brutality and starvation. What sets this account apart from the 15 other memoirs of this period that I've read is Affonço's careful, delicate prose and her crystal clear elaboration of the story. The author has taken pains to place her experience within the greater context of events of the period, which she does without belaboring the history; instead footnotes sprinkled throughout the book keep us informed of political and social trends that affected her survival. But more importantly, this is no mere recounting of events: Affonço does a magnificent job of describing her own emotional anguish as her life is stripped down to the bare elements of survival, and her son and daughter are exposed to the horrors of hunger and danger at the hands of their heartless Khmer Rouge guards.
The most poignant moment comes when Affonço's 9-year-old daughter Jeanie dies of starvation. Rendered in painful detail, this death is portrayed both tenderly and cruelly, imbued with a bereaved mother's endless agony and remorse. Affonço owes her decision to go on surviving after this to her son, who had apparently rejected her but was only pretending in order to conform to Khmer Rouge policies.
Hunger was the cruelest torture inflicted on the victims of Pol Pot's madness, and Affonço does not spare us the obsessive nature of her suffering. Her daily search for anything to eat in order to stave off death is almost elegant in its horrifying intensity:
"I am tormented, tortured by hunger--yes, I call this a slow-burning torture, a death sentence by degrees, because who could ever have imagined that men such as these Khmer Rouge could be perverted enough to watch us die of hunger without so much as lifting a little finger! I have no self-respect left...what pride can be left in me when I go as far as to compete with animals for their food?" (p. 130)
Affonço was at death's door when the Vietnamese invaded Kampuchea in early 1979, but she made her way to Siem Reap and found employment as a translator. She expresses immense gratitude to a Vietnamese doctor who showed compassion and kindness to her--in contrast to almost everyone else at that time who reviled the Vietnamese. Arriving in France in 1980, she was told to keep her gratitude to herself.
Altogether this is a highly readable book, rich in historical detail in addition to being a marvelously human story of survival. Affonço is a keen observer and a skillful writer. Sadly, the translation is often clumsy with occasional grammatical errors and misused words. All the same, Affonço's gift for narrative shines through and the reader is treated to a vivid and unnerving portrait of hell.