- Series: Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (February 15, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226767779
- ISBN-13: 978-0226767772
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan (Worlds of Desire: The Chicago Series on Sexuality, Gender, and Culture)
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Top Customer Reviews
C. Sarah Soh, as a native Korean who was fortunate to receive formal education both in her homeland and abroad, has produced a masterful examination of a controversial issue involving Korea and Japan which people from both countries have long oversimplified.
Koreans generally believe that Imperial Japan's leadership ordered, planned, and executed the gunpoint kidnapping of thousands of Korean females and summarily shipped them like chattel to frontline brothels.
Japanese people - at least those who know this issue - either agree that the Koreans were largely victimized, or claim that this is a gross fabrication and that the comfort women were essentially willing prostitutes.
Professor Soh cites several examples, such as interviews with survivors, to show that the truth is far more complex. Some survivors stated they were not forcibly taken by Japanese troops. Others are shown to have bought their way to freedom with earnings - earnings??? Yes. Hence the question - if the comfort women were slaves, they wouldn't have had wages. Then what were they: slaves or prostitutes or something else?
Additionally, Professor Soh does the reader a huge service by detailing the sociocultural contexts of 1930s-1940s Korea and Japan. Information on views on sex, women, and the sexism that characterized pre-modern Korean and Japanese societies is provided, thus presenting the reader with a better understanding of what facilitated the existence of "sex care work" in both societies. Anyone familiar with Korea and Japan today will be aware that extramarital affairs have been generally tolerated, historically speaking, and that older men have often availed themselves of sexual services provided by far younger women.
The comfort women issue did not happen in a vacuum. Japanese generals didn't wake up one day, deciding to 'award' their enlisted men with females to sate their urges, and they didn't decide to violently seize thousands of Korean women at will. As a reader of Korean ethnicity myself, I know this is a painful subject, and I personally believe there were abductions. But as the attentive reader will see, the story is far more diverse and much more complicated that flag-waving nationalists on either side of the East Sea (or, as some call it, the Sea of Japan), would want us to believe.
It is worth noting (somewhat of a spoiler alert) that Professor Soh was shunned and coldly treated by South Koreans who are involved in the redress movement after those activists learned of the fruits of her research. I wonder why. Did Professor Soh's findings upset their ostensibly benign agenda? Is there something she uncovered the redress activists preferred not to even know and prefer that their compatriots remain ignorant of?
If the comfort women issue is of any interest to you, read this book. It is a must-have in the library of any serious student of Korea's modern history.
Only fours stars because sometimes the writing got awkward, like when she would unnecessarily provide the Korean pronunciation for a random word. Some made sense because they were thematic and appeared often throughout the book, but others seemed to just be there as a reminder that you are reading about people in another country who spoke another language.