Graphic Novel Review: Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim.

Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Translated by Janet Hong. Drawn & Quarterly, 2019. 9781770463622. 480pp.

This is the story of Lee Ok-Sun, a Korean woman who was kidnapped when she was fifteen. She was forced into sexual slavery as a comfort woman in the service of Japanese soldiers in Manchuria during World War II.

In present day she lives in the House of Sharing in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province, a nursing home for former comfort women, where the author gets to know her. Granny Ok-Sun talks about her life as child — she was so poor she once tried to feed her little brothers the bark of pine trees. Eventually her parents gave her up for adoption to a couple with a restaurant who said they’d send her to school. Instead she was treated as a slave, and eventually ran away. She was working in a tavern when she was kidnapped.

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim shows Lee Ok-Sun’s time as a comfort woman in detail, and it’s horrible, but the focus is always on Lee’s survival and humanity. She always had friends, and even managed to laugh once in a while. After the war she made a life for herself in China and returned to Korea for the first time in fifty-five years in 1996.

For me personally, I wish my mother-in-law were still alive to tell me a little more about her life under Japanese occupation in Korea, especially about the extreme hardships she endured. (I do know that her elder sister married very young to avoid being forced to become a comfort woman herself.) Thanks to Lee Ok-Sun for sharing her story, and to Gendry-Kim for her amazing storytelling and delicate touch.


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