Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This impressive first novel by a Hawaii-based writer of mixed Korean and American ancestry depicts one of the atrocities of war and its lingering effects on a later generation. An intense study of a mother-daughter relationship, it dwells simultaneously in the world of spirits and the social milieu of the adolescent schoolgirl who later becomes a career woman with lovers. Beccah is a youngish, contemporary Hawaiian whose Korean mother, Akiko, was sold into prostitution as a young woman and sent to a "recreation camp'' to service the occupying Japanese army. Akiko developed a resilience that allowed her to distance herself from the daily plundering of her body; she also developed an intense communication with the spirit world that helped her survive the horror of her experience-and helped her, too, to catch the attention of a visiting American missionary, who married her and fathered Beccah. After his death, mother and daughter live together in Honolulu, Beccah striving for a normal life, Akiko, often possessed, screaming and wailing, by her ghosts and visions. With the help of a flamboyant, ultra-worldly friend who calls herself Auntie Reno, Akiko becomes a seer and fortune-teller. Akiko's flashbacks to her haunted past and Beccah's account of their lives together are told alternately, and it is one of Keller's several triumphs that she is able to render the two worlds so powerfully and distinctly. Though piercing and moving in its evocation of feminine closeness, however, the narrative becomes somewhat claustrophobic, so that the occasional interventions of the cheerfully vulgar Auntie Reno are hugely welcome. A striking debut by a strongly gifted writer, nonetheless. Author tour. (Apr.)
In her first novel, Keller draws on the distinct voices of Beccah, an obituary writer, and her mother, Akiko, a spirit medium, to illustrate the the unconquerable love between mother and daughter. Beccah is lost on the path of life, unsure where her future lies, while her mother is lost in the past, her life caught up in the spirits of the dead, who have haunted her since her escape from the camps where she was a sex slave during the Japanese occupation of Korea in World War II. The story is told from these two women's points of view as each grapples with the terrors, real and imaginary, that dominate their lives. Beccah knows little of her mother's past, and when her mother dies, she is forced to confront the truth. Despite the atrocities recounted and the suffering endured, a fierce love binds these two spirits together, even in death. Highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/96.]-Erin Cassin, "Library Journal"
First-novelist Keller, a Korean-American living in Hawaii, offers a shocking and unusual version of the mother-daughter relationship tale, in which a Korean woman whose experience as a "comfort woman" servicing Japanese troops during WW II profoundly distorts her own life and that of her Korean-American daughter.
Poor, orphaned Kim Soon Hyo was only 12 when her oldest sister raised the money for her own dowry by selling Soon Hyo to the occupying Japanese. One of hundreds of girls kept like animals in stalls and forced to service long lines of soldiers, Soon Hyo was assigned the name Akikothe name each girl inhabiting that stall had been giventhen raped, beaten, humiliated, and adored on a daily basis, according to each soldier's whim. Profoundly traumatized, Soon Hyo struggled to survive by imagining herself emptied of her soul. As the war ends, Soon Hyo escapes to Pyongyang, where she marries an American missionary who knows her only by her hated Japanese name, returns with him to the US, and eventually gives birth to a daughter. When her husband dies, "Akiko" finds herself stranded in Hawaii with no money, a five- year-old child to care for, and a tenuous hold on her sanity. Rebeccah Bradley, Akiko's daughter, grows up in the shadow of her mother's periodic bouts of psychosis, periods that a number of locals view as true visitations from the spirit world and pay to witness, thus providing a modicum of financial support for the two females. Rebeccah, ignorant of her mother's traumatic childhood, struggles mightily to free herself from the terror and embarrassment of Akiko's fits, eccentricities, and neglect. It is only after Akiko's death, when Rebeccah herself is almost 30, that she learns the terrible secrets buried in her mother's past.
Not at all a pretty story, but a memorable one, powerfully told. Keller brings her Korean characters to vivid, passionate life.